Pressure is heaping on Cronulla star Shaun Johnson after the marquee signing was pulled with the game on the line in Sunday’s NRL loss to Brisbane.
The Sharks were trailing by two points with four minutes left on the clock when coach John Morris made the big call to substitute Johnson at Pointsbet Stadium.
Johnson had just 12 metres from two runs, as well as one tackle break, one error, and three missed tackles from 11 attempts in his 76 minutes on the field.
Morris later denied hooking Johnson from the field and explained that he wanted young playmaker Kyle Flanagan on the field to solve their goalkicking yips.
After missing all three of his attempts last week – and five of his past seven – Johnson was relieved of the kicking duties in favour of Chad Townsend.
But Townsend missed all four of his attempts on Sunday before Flanagan nailed his one look at goal after coming on.
“It’s a bit frustrating that I’m making changes around goalkicking,” Morris said.
“You shouldn’t be thinking like that as a coach. You should be thinking about other parts of your game, but at the moment we’re in a hole there.
“I think we’ve kicked three from our last 10. It’s more to do with that.”
Johnson’s modest return continues a frustrating maiden season in the Shire that has been hampered by quad and hamstring issues.
The New Zealand international has won just three of his nine games since sensationally being granted a release from the Warriors to join the Sharks.
Johnson was heralded as the star replacement for Valentine Holmes, who stunned the league community when he defected to the NFL in November.
While Morris attempted to defend Johnson’s quiet outing, he did concede to having to put Flanagan on the bench after dropping their past two games by two points.
“Against Canberra we had 20 minutes to find two points and we couldn’t get it done,” Morris said of their latest failure, which drops them to ninth.
“Last week we had 33 minutes to find two points and we couldn’t get it done. So we’re not closing out games. What we’ve done in the last two weeks ain’t working.
“So I wasn’t just going to go down that path again. I’m not going to just cop it for three weeks in a row. We’re experienced enough to close out games.
“I know our halves have been disappointed their last two weeks in closing out games (but) we had to try something else.”
Brisbane’s baby Broncos won 24-22 after five-eighth Jake Turpin swooped on a great Tevita Pangai offload to level the scores with just over five minutes left and Kotoni Staggs kicked the conversion.
The Sharks scored five tries to four at Pointsbet Stadium, but Townsend missed four kicks at goal, while Staggs nailed all of his conversion attempts.
In other games from Round 16, St George Illawarra slumped to 12th after its two-point loss to Melbourne, which remains six points clear atop the ladder.
Sydney Roosters, who got Luke Keary back from injury, hopped over South Sydney into second following their eight-point win over Wests Tigers.
And the Warriors overcame a 10-point deficit and a couple of contentious decisions to upset a depleted Newcastle side 24-20 on Saturday.