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Ruck battle pivotal against Dogs: Johnson

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 16/03/2017 Angelo Risso

<span style="font-size:13px;">Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson says his side's battle up front with Canterbury will go a long way towards determining Friday's winner in Dunedin.</span> © Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson says his side's battle up front with Canterbury will go a long way towards determining Friday's winner in Dunedin. Warriors star Shaun Johnson has pinpointed the ruck as the key battleground when his NRL side takes on the Bulldogs in Dunedin.

Canterbury, despite their winless start to the 2017 campaign, have one of the finest forward packs in the NRL through Aiden Tolman and captain James Graham, as well as the brute force of Sam Kasiano off the pine.

The trio, along with lock David Klemmer, have made a combined 785 metres with ball in hand as the Dogs fell 12-6 to Melbourne and 28-24 to the Roosters.

Hooker Michael Lichaa has also been given more freedom this year to exploit the forwards' yardage by scampering out of dummy half.

Yet the Warriors have their own muscular propping quartet, with Albert Vete, Jacob Lillyman, Sam Lisone and Charlie Gubb looking much-improved in their side's 26-10 loss to Melbourne last Friday.

Johnson told reporters that quelling the Bulldogs' go-forward and maintaining territorial dominance would be key to securing a second NRL win of 2017.

"We've got to do a fine, good job there to slow them down at the ruck, not give them the front-foot ball they like playing off," the halfback said.

"They're a much better side than their record probably shows at the moment.

"We know they'll be a force in the competition this year."

The Warriors were hit by grim news on Wednesday when skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck failed to overcome the NRL's concussion protocols and was ruled out of the Otago showdown, joining Kieran Foran on the sidelines.

Tui Lolohea will shift across from the wing to take the 23-year-old's spot, with veteran Manu Vatuvei reinstated on the flank.

Despite the Kiwi fullback's absence, Johnson was insistent his side would play a more adventurous game on Friday on the indoor Forsyth-Barr Stadium track.

Bucketloads of rain had hampered their offensive plans against the Storm last week and inhibited the 26-year-old's fifth-tackle options.

"It's no coincidence that we tucked it under the arm a little more on Friday night, so there will certainly be a little more letting the ball go," Johnson said.

"We want to play a brand of footy we're happy and proud of, (and) playing in dry conditions encourages that."

A loss in Dunedin will hand the Bulldogs their worst start to an NRL season in 21 years, as well as marking the worst losing streak of coach Des Hasler's career.

Yet Warriors counterpart Stephen Kearney expected Canterbury to fire for their off-contract coach, whose future has come under the spotlight in recent weeks.

The veteran coach is reportedly keen to sign on with the Dogs for another two years, but discussions with the club are ongoing.

"Des is a very experienced football coach and you just look at their record over the past few years - we know what we're in for," Kearney said.

"We've got some improvements from last week we need to address.

"Our finish to our sets is pretty obvious and there's a couple of little areas in our defensive structure that I thought weren't up to scratch."

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