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Blunt Warriors defend Johnson's form

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 29/03/2017
Shaun Johnson of the Warriors looks on during the round three NRL match against the Melbourne Storm at Mt Smart Stadium on March 20 © Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images Shaun Johnson of the Warriors looks on during the round three NRL match against the Melbourne Storm at Mt Smart Stadium on March 20

The Warriors' inert attacking efforts aren't the fault of halfback Shaun Johnson, insist coach Stephen Kearney and playmaker-to-be Kieran Foran.

Following an opening-round win over Newcastle, the Warriors have failed to score more than 12 points in any of their three subsequent losses.

They've had sufficient possession and field position to score more against Melbourne, Canterbury and St George Illawarra but have been stymied by a blunt attack and weak fifth-tackle plays.

High-profile No.7 Johnson has worn criticism for a lack of impact, with New South Wales State of Origin coach Laurie Daley believing Johnson needs a "reality check".

Daley suggested Kearney drop or bench Johnson for a week to stoke the competitive fires.

Kearney noted Johnson is a regular whipping boy when the Warriors don't play well but reckons criticism this season is unfair.

He says the 26-year-old Kiwis playmaker is fully motivated and letting nobody down with his commitment.

"I try not to pay too much attention to a lot of the outside sources in terms of opinions and critics. If I did that every week I'd be scrambled up," Kearney said.

"I'm really comfortable with how Shaun's going, I think he's trying really hard. I've seen a real improvement from him so I'm happy."

Foran will link with Johnson in his Warriors debut against the Gold Coast Titans on Sunday if cleared of a hamstring injury.

He has been a keen observer of his long-time Test halves partner and believes critics need to ease up.

"I don't know why Shaun's come under fire to be honest," Foran said.

"I've watched the games closely enough and he's competing in every play. He's doing everything he can to get our team over the line.

"He's just got to keep doing what he's doing. We're not getting the two points at the moment but when things turn he'll be a major factor in it."

While doubt hangs over Foran's availability, Kearney cast some light over the fitness of two other first-choice veteran players recovering from knee injuries.

Winger Manu Vatuvei underwent minor surgery on Friday after suffering an aggravation against the Bulldogs. He is expected to be available in three weeks.

Kearney put the same timeframe on prop Ben Matulino, who is running lightly. Matulino underwent surgery in January but his recovery had been compromised by infection.

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