Shaun Johnson stars after high temperature scare before Sharks’ win over Cowboys

Shaun Johnson kicks ahead for a try to Ronaldo Mulitalo in the Sharks' victory over the Cowboys. GETTY-IMAGES

Kiwis star Shaun Johnson – the poster boy for a new NRL campaign aimed at attracting more Asians to rugby league – recovered from a brief high temperature scare to collect three try assists in the Sharks’ 26-16 win over the Cowboys.

Johnson combined superbly with Matt Moylan in the halves after being forced to undergo a second temperature check to enter Townsville’s Queensland Country Back Stadium on Saturday night.

The former Warrior was one of six Sharks who failed their first test, which coach John Morris put down to a faulty device.

“I was like, ‘What’s going on here? I’m going to have to pull the boots on’. But I’m not sure what it was. They just had to take 10 or 15 minutes and take their time to cool down in the air con, and they all got through,” Morris said at the post-match press conference.

“I honestly don’t know what the game would do if there was five or six [players] like we were today, if they were still over.

“I think it may have had something to do with the testing device. I think they may have changed the device and the readings came down, so maybe it was a faulty device.”

Johnson did not let the temperature issue faze him.

The 29-year-old carved off 276 kicking metres, slotted three conversions and made 16 tackles as he steered the Sharks around the pitch.

Johnson’s deft grubber set up a first half try for Auckland-born wing Ronaldo Mulitalo and he flung a long ball in the leadup to Mulitalo’s score in the second spell.

After a Cowboys attack broke down, Johnson scooped up the loose ball 5m from his own line, made some metres down the right-hand touchline and passed infield for centre Jesse Ramien to tear away from the Cowboys’ desperation cover defence.

Moylan’s first appearance in the halves since 2018 for Cronulla has created a potential selection headache for Sharks coach Morris, according to AAP.

Thrust into the halves due to Chad Townsend’s hamstring injury, the NSW State of Origin representative had little statistical impact on the game but the reshuffle did appear to bring out the best in Johnson.

Despite the win, Sharks captain Wade Graham believes Moylan should drop back to fullback when Townsend is fit to return to the line-up.

“Probably experience-wise you’d have to go Chad and Shauny with Moyser at the back but again it’s a work in progress,” Graham told Fox Sports.

“Our injury run hasn’t been great, and we’ve been forced to shuffle a lot of times.”

Morris was delighted with the Sharks’ “on-fire right-side boys”, Ramien and Mulitalo, who both scored doubles.

“I was really happy for them because they’ve been a bit clunky there at best for most of the season.

“They’ve worked real hard at training this week, they’ve sort of simplified a lot of their attack, and we saw some real nice tries there.”

Meanwhile, NRL.com confirmed Shaun Johnson has agreed to head a campaign aimed at attracting more Asian people to rugby league.

Johnson – whose mother Say fled Laos in 1980 – will help launch the Laos Rugby League Federation and a new ethnic-based rugby league competition in Sydney for male and female players of Asian heritage.

“Shaun is the most successful Asian heritage player of his generation, and he has strong family and cultural connections to Laos,” NRL Asia CEO Peter Thompson said.

“It is something that is close to his heart and his mother was very excited to hear that rugby league is starting in Laos.

“He has put his hand up to be involved in everything from trophy presentations to going to games to running coaching clinics and helping with fundraising. He wants to be involved with the board and give feedback on the work we are doing.”

Johnson travelled to Laos in 2017 with his mother and other family members for a Sky Sport New Zealand documentary, Shaun Johnson Across the Mekong.

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