1 Feb 2017

Johnson looks to bigger prize in 2017

3:16 pm on 1 February 2017

The Warriors playmaker Shaun Johnson will tone down his participation in this weekend's Auckland Nine competition in the hope of securing a more important prize - the National Rugby League title.

Shaun Johnson has been an ever-present fixture in the Nines tournament since its 2014 inception, guiding the Warriors to last year's final.

But he says he will be taking more of a back seat role this weekend as he focuses on pushing his side NRL success.

Shaun Johnson sees the try line.

Shaun Johnson. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Warriors have not played in a finals series since 2011, when Johnson broke onto the scene as a zippy 20-year-old and drove the side to the grand final.

Last year the side set themselves up for a finals berth with some excellent mid- year football, but threw it away by losing their last four games to finish 10th.

The collapse convinced Warriors chief Jim Doyle to demote coach Andrew McFadden to assistant and bring in ex-Kiwis mentor Stephen Kearney.

"Definitely my minutes are going to be reduced this time around, I probably haven't helped that in the past, I'm so competitive and want to be out there," Johnson said.

"Had a good crack at it last year but took a knock which had a bit of an effect on how my NRL season went."

The knock in question, a thigh injury sustained in the final against Parramatta, gave Johnson plenty of troubles in 2016 despite playing all 24 games.

He delivered 10 tries and 18 assists, but also made a club-high 22 errors and struggled to showcase his trademark running game.

It also prevented him from stamping his mark on the end-of-year Four Nations tournament, as Johnson's Kiwis were trumped in the final against Australia.

Having taken an extended off-season, travelling his mother's birth nation Laos, Johnson admitted the idea of skipping the Nines altogether crossed his mind.

But he felt obliged to take part, given the tournament's importance to Kiwi rugby league and young Warriors players graduating to the elite level.

"It's so hard because I dreamed of them having a tournament here like this," Johnson said.

"This is such a key moment in rugby league and growing the sport in NZ, so every time this rolls around, I want to be there."