In the space of seven days, Warriors wizard Shaun Johnson has emerged as arguably the single most important player in the 2015 premiership. Johnson, following a subpar start to the year, enjoyed a majestic return to form in the Kiwis’ emphatic Anzac Test defeat of the Kangaroos, before transferring his match-winning bag of tricks back to the NRL sphere in the Warriors’ vital eclipse of Cronulla on Saturday night.
It was far from a vintage 80-minute display from the halfback – several of his passes went to ground, while a baffling fourth-tackle kick out on the full in the latter stages put his side on the back foot – but the two pieces of brilliance he conjured in the final six minutes were simply beyond the capabilities of his rivals.
Johnson’s slashing break and mind-blowing pinpoint kick to lay on Solomone Kata’s try harked back to the buzzer-beater Darren Lockyer and Denan Kemp produced for the Broncos in 2008. But the will-o’-the-wisp No.7’s solo try with a minute remaining was as mesmerising as it was clutch – another dazzling highlight to add to a bulging reel.
In a premiership that is as even and unpredictable as this year’s, freakish individual brilliance – as it was with Benji Marshall in the rollercoaster 2005 competition – is the X-factor, and the likes of Johnson and Johnathan Thurston are currently of a different plane to their contemporaries.
Hurrell punishment unfair
The severity of the injury to Anthony Tupou – and the images of the Cronulla forward in hospital – are confronting to say the least, but Konrad Hurrell’s three-match ban for a knee lift that caused Tupou’s broken jaw was over the top.
Tupou came in from the side; Hurrell didn’t raise his knee into the defender. It was a terrible accident and a shocking outcome – but Tupou’s technique was as much at fault as fellow Tongan international Hurrell’s.
Compare that to the two-match suspension dished out to Manly’s James Hasson for leading with the knee into Parramatta defender Anthony Watmough, and it is clear Tupou’s unfortunate injury has held far too much weighting.
Lolohea running for cover
Is there a better cover-defending fullback in the NRL than Warriors youngster Tuimoala Lolohea? In consecutive matches, the 20-year-old has shown remarkable pace and technique to mow down David Mead and Ben Barba, before bundling both into touch when a try beckoned. Lolohea will be shuffled around the backline after Sam Tomkins returns, but he is a potential match-winner in any spot and shapes as the long-term solution at five-eighth for the Warriors.