Johnson to make return this weekend

Johnson to make return this weekend

When the Warriors run out at Redcliffe’s Moreton Daily Stadium to take on the Titans on Saturday, it will be a different ‘homecoming’ for star halfback Shaun Johnson but he’s thrilled his family will be there to share it with him.

Johnson will suit up in the Warriors’ colours for the first time in 1267 days for the club’s second 2022 NRL trial game and the surprise arrival of wife Kayla and 18-month-old daughter Millah a few days ago is the icing on the cake.

“It really couldn’t have come at a better time. I was really starting to miss them, so it’s been a good lift for me,” he says.

“I’m just really excited that they get to be here this weekend. Obviously, it’s going to be a pretty special weekend for my family … the first time running out in a Warriors jersey for a while and for them to be in the stands for that is pretty cool.”

He’s feeling fit and says a “really good preseason” has him ready to play this weekend.

“I pinged my hammy last year in a pretty bad way, but the way they’ve managed me and got me back into the swing of things is pretty impressive,” he explains.

“Obviously at my age, I probably can’t do the things that some of the 20-year-olds do and the sheer volume that they’re doing … but I definitely think I’ve got enough work under my belt to … one, go this weekend and two, go into the season feeling pretty confident with my body.”

When asked if he thought the squad would draw on their tight bond, as a result of the adversity they’ve faced due to COVID-19, to perform better this season Johnson says many people and other clubs had also overcome adversity.

“I don’t necessarily believe that we can do something special to come off the back of that. I believe we can do something special because of the hard work we’ve put in,” Johnson says.

He’s hoping the squad’s adopted community – the Moreton Bay Region and particularly Redcliffe – will support them, starting this weekend.

“I do hope they can get behind us this season because we are representing this region, although we are representing New Zealand, they’re housing us for a year and this is the region we’re representing,” he says.

“We want to do our family and friends, but we also do Redcliffe proud. They’ve been terrific to us since we’ve been here.”

Off to a good start

Johnson says last weekend’s 30-18 win over Melbourne Storm in Melbourne was a good start.

“We wanted to go out there and showcase what we’ve been doing in preseason. Trial games are pretty hard, you never get too carried away with trial games, so we put a lid on it pretty quick,” he says.

It’s a sentiment shared by Head Coach Nathan Brown who says there are areas they are focusing on at training this week.

“We had some stuff that was really positive and we had some stuff we’ll need to sharpen and get some real improvement out of. I suppose most sides over the weekend would probably say similar things,” Brown says.

“The first trial is always such a difficult one because of the amount of people who don’t play or the amount of changes that happen and the way the game can drop off a bit at different stages. I think this week, for most sides, will give us a far better indication of how we’re travelling because most sides will have a far stronger side for a longer period of time.”

Second rower Eliesa Katoa, originally from Tonga, captained the side in the trial against Melbourne which was also a tsunami appeal fundraiser.

“It was special for me. I grew up in Tonga and never imagined myself … just to lead the boys last week was special for me. Everything I do, I do for my family, I do for my people back home,” Katoa says.

“I know it was only a trial but a win is a win for us.”

Katoa is feeling confident ahead of this weekend’s trial against the Titans, particularly with the return of experienced players including halfback Johnson.

Brown says Johnson plays in a key position and is very experienced in that position.

“He knows his way around the field and they’re not easy to find, are they?” he says.

“Fortunately for us Shaun became available and was very keen to come home. They don’t always land in your lap of that quality.

“I think his biggest thing is his understanding of what’s required on a footy field. He’s a far more controlled player now than when he was younger – he was probably a little bit faster and little bit more brilliant when he was younger. He’s a far better team player now and understands how to make other people look good and understands what the team needs.”

Strong squad selected

While Johnson’s comeback match is a key feature so, too, is Brown’s choice in the halves.

With Reece Walsh ruled out of the opening two rounds of the season, Chanel Harris-Tavita is again being used at fullback this weekend leaving him poised to wear the #1 jersey in the round one clash against the St George Illawarra Dragons at Sunshine Coast Stadium on Saturday, March 12.

That left experienced new signing Ash Taylor and the seasoned Kodi Nikorima vying for the #6 spot with Brown giving the nod to the latter.

Josh Curran is back from a head knock suffered in his appearance for the Indigenous All Stars against the Māori All Stars on February 12.

Johnson and Curran are joined by first-choice hooker Wayde Egan, who is returning after offseason shoulder surgery, and second rower Jack Murchie.

In naming a 25-man squad Brown has selected the strongest squad available with Harris the only frontline player missing along with Walsh and prop Matt Lodge; Walsh and Lodge were both used against the Storm but are ineligible for selection in the opening round due to the suspensions they carry into the season.

In Lodge’s absence, Addin Fonua-Blake and Afoa both start at prop with hooker Egan, second rowers Euan Aitken and Eliesa Katoa and loose forward Curran rounding out the starting pack.

Three players without NRL experience are on the extended bench – contracted development prop Otukinekina Kepu, winger Junior Ratuva and train and trial fullback Jayden Corrigan.

GAME DETAILS

NRL TRIAL VODAFONE WARRIORS v GOLD COAST TITANS

Moreton Daily Stadium, Redcliffe

Saturday, February 26. Kick-off at 2pm

VODAFONE WARRIORS’ SQUAD

1 Chanel HARRIS-TAVITA

2 Dallin WATENE-ZELEZNIAK

3 Rocco BERRY

4 Viliami VAILEA

5 Marcelo MONTOYA

6 Kodi NIKORIMA

7 Shaun JOHNSON

8 Addin FONUA-BLAKE

9 Wayde EGAN

10 Bunty AFOA

11 Euan AITKEN

12 Eliesa KATOA

13 Josh CURRAN

Interchange:

14 Jazz TEVAGA

15 Otukinekina KEPU

16 Ben MURDOCH-MASILA

17 Aaron PENE

18 Bayley SIRONEN

20 Taniela OTUKOLO

21 Ash TAYLOR

22 Edward KOSI

23 Jack MURCHIE

24 Adam POMPEY

25 Junior RATUVA

26 Jayden CORRIGAN

Head coach | Nathan Brown

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