Shaun Johnson says he always cautioned that it would take time, but he senses the Warriors’ new spine is starting to gel.
The Warriors face Manly in Auckland on Saturday night, having turned around a 0-3 beginning to the NRL season with back-to-back wins.
After his own slow start on return from a serious ankle injury, the mercurial Johnson showed more of his running game in the victories over Newcastle and the Sydney Roosters.
Against the Roosters, hooker Issac Luke had his best performance in a Warriors jersey, while fellow new recruit Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, facing his former teammates, continued to eat up the metres from the back and grabbed the dramatic golden-point try.
“We said it wasn’t going to happen overnight and we’re certainly not there yet,” Johnson said.
“As as a backline, as a spine, we’re learning every week. We’re getting more comfortable alongside one another.”
The Warriors have scored 13 tries over the past fortnight and boast the third-best attack in the competition, but their defence – the third worst – remains a concern.
Johnson said the frustrating thing was that the Warriors have put more emphasis on their defence than their attack.
“I feel like we’re defending well,” the five-eighth said.
“The scoreboard at the weekend probably didn’t do justice to how much we were scrambling for one another. All we can do is keep working harder.”
With star Manly playmaker Daly Cherry-Evans still injured, Johnson and halves partner Jeff Robson will go head-to-head against the combination of hooker Apisai Koroisau and converted centre Dylan Walker.
Despite their impromptu pairing, Koroisau and Walker stood out in the Sea Eagles’ 16-12 loss to South Sydney in the last round.
Like the 10th-placed Warriors, Manly are 2-3 going into the match at Mt Smart Stadium, but points differential means they sit three spots lower on the table.
However, history heavily favours the Sea Eagles, who have won nine of the past 10 encounters between the sides, including the 2011 grand final.
“They’re a quality side,” Johnson said.
“They’re hardened. They’ve played in a number of big games. It’s always a really good challenge for us.”
STATS THAT MATTER
* Manly lead 19-8 in meetings between the clubs and 10-3 in matches in Auckland.
* The Sea Eagles’ dominance includes winning the last three encounters, and nine of the past 10.
* Manly fullback Brett Stewart has scored 13 tries in 12 matches against the Warriors, including a hat-trick and three doubles.