Shaun Johnson ready to make the most of finals chance with Cronulla Sharks

Shaun Johnson is delighted to return to playing finals football with Cronulla. Picture: John Veage
Shaun Johnson is delighted to return to playing finals football with Cronulla. Picture: John Veage

Shaun Johnson is desperate for his young Cronulla teammates to not take Saturday night's finals appearance for granted.

The Sharks travel to Brookvale Oval for an elimination final against Manly, needing to win to keep their season alive and advance to week two of the finals.

A win would see them move on to meet the loser of the Sydney Roosters-South Sydney clash and drag themselves within touching distance of a preliminary final.

For Johnson, he wants Cronulla's young guns to make the most of the opportunity.

The 29-year-old New Zealand international has played just five finals matches in his nine-year NRL career. Four of those came in his first season, where he led the Warriors all the way to the grand final before they were beaten by Manly.

Johnson had to wait seven years for another finals appearance, with the Warriors going down to Penrith last season.

Now he has a chance to feature in the post season wearing the black, white and blue. And appreciating the chance to play finals football is something he wants Cronulla's young guns like Briton Nikora, Bronson Xerri and Jayden Brailey to do.

"Obviously when you sign on with a team like the Sharks you do see what they've done the last few years. They've had that expectation that you're going to play finals. The fact that we were able to tick that box first is a nice feeling," he said.

"Obviously there were some years there where we weren't able to make finals [at the Warriors]. But last year and to be able to back it up this year personally, I'm just hoping we're able to go a little better and go a little deeper. So I'm really looking forward to this week. It's exciting and it's only going to get more exciting if we continue to go deep in the comp which is, for an old boy now, quite cool.

"It's weird when you look back on your career. And then you think of the times you've made the finals or missed the finals. All those good times or bad times, you get to these points and you can really appreciate it more than anything. When I came through in 2011 it just happened so quick. Now that you're in this position again you really just don't want to waste it.

"So I'm not going to get too excited too early. We've got to build into this weekend. But for me I'm able to appreciate this moment a little more and understand actually how hard it is to get to this spot. Because there's eight teams that don't have a game this week. We're one of the lucky ones that do. So I'm looking forward to it.

"You can say it all you want to some of the young boys but it's just in one ear and out the other. They're just going to ride it as much as they can. I say that because I remember Lance Hohaia telling me in 2011 like 'Shauny, it goes quick'. He was playing the grand final in his last year and the only other time he made the GF was his first year in 2002. So it was like 10 years for him... so I'm just going to let them enjoy it. We need that excitement."

Johnson firmly shut down talk about Cronulla's dismal record against Manly and at Brookvale Oval, with Saturday night's clash to be his first game at the venue in first grade having only featured there once in the under-20s competition.

Cronulla have struggled for consistency this season having not won more than two games in a row all year. Having beaten the Wests Tigers last weekend and facing the prospect of needing to win four elimination finals to secure the premiership, the Sharks will have to win five games on the trot if they are to lift to trophy come the first weekend in October.

Johnson said that while consistency had been an issue for the Sharks he believed they had what it took to produce a fairy tale end to the season.

"There's no better time to change that. We've got a real clear focus on how we want to play and what it looks like," he said.

"When you've got that confidence within the group and you focus solely on you to deliver what you need to deliver for the team, the rest takes care of itself.

"You go into situations like we're going into this weekend feeling really confident. It's not being arrogant or ahead of ourselves but everyone talks about the talent we've got within our squad. I think as a unit we're starting to feel pretty connected at the moment. That's pretty important if we want to go on this run and shake it up."

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