Kiwis hold off England for gritty one-point win
RUGBY LEAGUE: Shaun Johnson has praised New Zealand's resilience, saying its never say die attitude sealed the 17-16 Four Nations clash win over England.
Johnson was one of the standouts in the Kiwi effort in Huddersfield, kicking the decisive field goal with 15 minutes to play, after earlier grabbing an intercept try at the start of the second half.
He was named man of the match, but deflected any praise.
"You saw the pressure they put us under at the start of the game and we were slowly able to turn it back and score that try at the back end of the half, which really set us up for the second half,” Johnson said.
"(Then) we held very tough at the end there. The boys just kept showing up for each other ... it was a very gritty win for us.”
The Kiwis repelled almost incessant pressure in the first 20 minutes, with Thomas Leuluai, Jordan Kahu and Solomone Kata all coming up with crucial tackles near their line.
And then the team was forced to hang on grimly to a one-point lead in the final 15 minutes, with a capacity crowd roaring the Lions on.
"I didn't for one second think, that's us, we've won the game,” said Johnson of his 65th-minute snap one-pointer from 15 metres out.
"It was more to get our nose in front because you take any sort of lead in a game when you are playing up here. The opportunity was there and I took it.”
The quick decision summed up Johnson's display, in a much more proactive match from the No.7 compared to his last two matches in the Kiwis jersey.
Off the back of an improved forward effort, Johnson found time and space, and showed greater willingness to run to the line. His intercept try was critical, and brought back memories of his debut at Eden Park in 2012, when he scored a similar long-range effort against Australia.
Johnson also kicked well (the Kiwis forced six line drop-outs), showed urgency on defence and generally made good decisions with ball in hand. After a mixed Warriors season, and an underwhelming display in Perth against Australia earlier this month, it was a reminder of what he is capable of.
"I've copped it a bit in the media lately, haven't I,” Johnson said. "So it's pleasing. I never doubted myself but when you hear things often enough you start to believe them, don't you? To come out there and play for the boys, play for the person next to me, that's all I did today. I'm glad I could play a part in the boys getting a win.”
As well as an improved effort from the forward pack - with Issac Luke, Jason Taumalolo, Kevin Proctor and Martin Taupau particular standouts - the players outside Johnson also lifted their game considerably from Perth.
Leuluai was typically solid until he left the field with a head knock in the 52nd minute, while Kahu was superb at the back. Jason Nightingale and Jordan Rapana were brave under the high ball and Rapana scored two crucial tries, while Kata was again impressive at this level. Only Shaun Kenny-Dowall was disappointing, continuing his mixed form from Perth with some errors at vital times.