With their finals hopes hanging by a thread and their most-influential player sidelined with a knee injury, the Warriors this week refused to buy into claims that they need more from off-season recruit Kieran Foran.
With Shaun Johnson set to miss 6-8 weeks with a ruptured PCL, Foran will be charged with directing the team around the park in the pressure-cooker environment of Townsville on Saturday night, doing so alongside Mason Lino who has just three NRL games to his name.
If it wasn’t already tough enough, the Warriors will have to get the job done against a red-hot North Queensland Cowboys side who have won three straight games and haven’t lost at home since April.
But this week Johnson was quick to leap to the defence of Foran, insisting he is playing his role exactly how the club requires right now.
“I don’t expect ‘Foz’ [Foran] to step up, I think he has been doing a great job and we just need him to keep building on his performance,” Johnson said.
“I think Foz will continue to do what he has been doing, he is the voice of our team and does a terrific job at getting boys into position.
“Throwing ‘Mase’ [Mason Lino] in there will only assist him.”
Foran had a low-key outing in last Friday’s 34-22 loss to the Penrith Panthers, at times appearing to be struggling to inject himself into the contest.
The Kiwi international’s recent form has attracted criticism from the likes of Frank Endacott in recent days, but coach Stephen Kearney said those calls were wide of the mark.
“I think everyone, there’s been stages where we haven’t been at our best, to single out Kieran is pretty ordinary,” Kearney said.
“Has he been at his best? Absolutely not. But he’s not by himself there.”
“He’s struggling a bit. I don’t think he’s fit” Peter Peters on Kieran Foran. “He just may struggle a little bit @NRL_Bulldogs“
— BigSportsWend (@BigSportsWend) July 15, 2017
Meanwhile back-rower Bunty Afoa threw his weight behind the selection of Mason Lino in the No.7 jersey, ahead of fellow youngster Ata Hingano, who had been used as the back-up playmaker through the first part of the season.
“I grew up with Mase and I have always believed in him,” Afoa said.
“I believe that he will step up. He is a good player and will bring some of his x-factor to the game.
“Mason and Foz are kind of similar, they both love to take the line on, they give early ball. But the thing for Mason is just to keep it simple, do what he loves, do what he is good at.”
I’m stoked for Mason Lino this weekend. He’s been waiting in the wings for ages with no promises, and deserves another chance to impress.
— Anton Posa (@antonposa) July 18, 2017
The Warriors head into Round 20 four points outside of the top eight, with just seven wins from 17 games to their name this year.