SHAUN JOHNSONNEWCASTLE coach Rick Stone said containing Warriors wizard Shaun Johnson rather than closing him down was all he expected of the Knights at Hunter Stadium on Saturday.
The 24-year-old halfback has developed into one of the game’s most lethal attacking weapons, and he secured the 2014 Golden Boot as the world’s best player by sparking New Zealand to a 22-18 win over Australia in the Four Nations final at Wellington in November.
‘‘He touches the ball as much as anyone there,’’ Stone said. ‘‘His ability to conjure up tries and score some tries himself is pretty important to the Warriors, and his speed and what he brings to the table with his footwork and the variation he’s got in his all-round game makes him one of the most dangerous ball-runners in the comp.
‘‘We know he’s a really important cog to their wheel. And it’s really about minimising his effect on the game rather than shutting him down altogether.
‘‘Good players like that have an influence, so it’s trying to minimise his effect on the game which is important. The amount of ball we give them is important as well.
‘‘But Shaun Johnson, current Golden Boot winner, his last couple of seasons have been real break-out seasons, and everyone’s seen the best of what Shaun Johnson can do, and it’s our job to try and stop him doing some of that stuff on Saturday.’’
Stone said the Knights had to restrict Johnson’s time in possession by minimising their errors and being vigilant in their defensive assignments.
That attention to detail will be critical against a Warriors team boasting size and skill across the park from fullback Sam Tomkins to front-rower Ben Matulino, as the Knights try to back up their 28-22 victory in the corresponding game last August.
‘‘They’re a terrific attacking team. We all know that,’’ he said. ‘‘They’ve got heaps of skilful players, they’re powerful, they’ve got offloads in them, they’re really good scoring tries from kicks, they’ve got weapons all over the park, so they’re a really dangerous attacking team, that’s for sure.
‘‘Their record away from home is probably not the best, but their record I would suggest in Newcastle isn’t too bad, in the time that I’ve been here anyway.
‘‘All first games are important, and the discipline and the mistake rate and the penalties and all those things are massive contributors towards the result, and this one will be no different.
‘‘So being tidy, and defensively being strong, they’re things you have to be against the Warriors because they have such an array of talent and they’re such a powerful footy team.’’
Stone challenged his forwards to match the Warriors in the middle of the field.
Korbin Sims has been named with Kade Snowden in the front row, giving the 23-year-old Queensland Origin hopeful first crack at filling the void left by Willie Mason.
Sims and Snowden will be supported by Knights debutant Jack Stockwell and veterans Chris Houston and David Fa’alogo off the bench.
‘‘Their pack is always big and mobile and skilful, as well and nice and aggressive, so any pack of forwards has got to be on their game and hold their own at least in the ruck,’’ Stone said.
AAP reports: Five-eighth Anthony Milford will make his Broncos debut while Glenn Stewart, Sutton and Ben Lowe make up a new Rabbitohs back row when the season kicks off on Thursday night in Brisbane.
Manly’s 2014 injury curse has carried over into the new season before their Friday trip to Parramatta.
Steve Matai (shoulder) Jorge Taufua (knee), Tom Symonds (elbow) and Josh Starling (knee) are all missing from the Sea Eagles line-up, and centre Jamie Lyon (knee) is in doubt.
‘‘I’m not sure yet,’’ Lyon said. ‘‘I’ve just got to get into training and rehab and see how I go.
‘‘It’s just some old scar tissue around the knee. Fingers crossed, but I’m 50-50.’’
Anthony Watmough will make his Eels debut against his former club, and another former Sea Eagle, Will Hopoate, will replace San Fransisco-bound star Jarryd Hayne at fullback.
None of the five players facing drug charges have been named in the Titans side for Wests Tigers’ visit to the Gold Coast on Saturday.
Blake Ferguson will play his first NRL game in almost 22 months when the Roosters travel to Townsville to play the North Queensland Cowboys on Saturday.