Warriors maestro Shaun Johnson admits the clock is ticking for his side as they embrace the weight of a nation heading into this weekend’s NRL Auckland Nines.
The Warriors have held nothing back in naming a nearly full-strength squad for their home-town tournament while the shortened format is seemingly hand-made for the Warriors’ style of ad-lib football.
And with a big, parochial Eden Park crowd at their backs, the Warriors face an overwhelming expectation after falling in the finals in the first two editions.
The Nines is locked in to be played in Auckland until 2018 with organisers Duco Events and the NRL to review the tournament and its hosting rights midway through next year.
With things seemingly falling into place for the Warriors, Johnson, who will captain the side at the Nines, says it’s vital that they hoist the trophy at least once in front of their home crowd.
“It’ll be really disappointing not to win it one of these years,” Johnson said.
“We’re very lucky to have it in our home town so we understand the effect a tournament like this has on the city and on New Zealand in general. So it’s pretty key.”
One of the keys questions which will be answered at this weekend’s tournament will be whether Johnson is back to his best after recovering from a broken ankle which kept him sidelined for the back half of last year.
For someone like Johnson who relies on his explosive speed and deft footwork, a broken ankle can be a career-changing injury.
Reports coming out of Warriors training is that he is looking sharp and he said the final phase of his rehabilitation was to test it out in game conditions.
“The last little bit of where I have to get to is probably mental,” Johnson said.
“I’m keen to play in an environment like this. The ankle and the leg is strong, I’ve done a lot of strength work on it and it’s about getting out there and playing an actual game.”