Townsville Bulletin - - SPORT - JON TUXWORTH

THE War­riors have lost six straight games with­out Shaun John­son. Three on the trot against the Cow­boys, too.

And as if that isn’t mo­ti­va­tion enough, the Cow­boys will be steel­ing them­selves for a fum­ing Kieran Fo­ran hell­bent on an­swer­ing his grow­ing crit­ics.

The Kiwi in­ter­na­tional fiveeighth, bound for Can­ter­bury next year, has been ac­cused of “check­ing out early” by ex­perts across the ditch and was ex­tremely quiet in last week’s late fade- out to Pen­rith.

With half­back John­son out for the year with a knee in­jury, Fo­ran needs to step up to give the 11th- placed War­riors any chance of play­ing fi­nals foot­ball.

“I think ev­ery­one here has had stages where we haven’t been at our best. To sin­gle out Kieran is pretty or­di­nary,” War­riors coach Stephen Kear­ney said this week.

“Has he been at his best? Ab­so­lutely not, but he’s not on his own. I don’t think he’s clocked off early.

“I thought he did some OK things early in the ( Pan­thers) con­test and I’m not go­ing to be re­ally cr­ti­cial of Kieran be­cause as I keep say­ing, it’s a team per­for­mance.

“My ex­pec­ta­tion is you’ll see a bet­ter per­for­mance Kieran this week.”

Kear­ney said he was “pissed off” af­ter watch­ing his side wilt de­fen­sively against Pen­rith in the last 20 min­utes.

They have con­ceded 112 points in their last three games against the Cow­boys, who have won three straight with­out their play­mak­ing tal­is­man Johnathan Thurston.

Kear­ney backed John­son’s re­place­ment, Ma­son Lino, to step up as he read­ies for his fourth NRL match, and first since the end of 2015.

“Los­ing Shaun is not ideal but what it does do is give an op­por­tu­nity for him to put his best ef­fort for­ward. He’s been from do­ing a won­der­ful job in re­serve grade,” Kear­ney said.

“He’s got a real calm­ness about him a re­ally good kick­ing game and with his talk and or­gan­i­sa­tion he’s come straight in and is boss­ing a few lads around.”

The Cow­boys are set to be with­out winger An­to­nio Win­ter­stein af­ter coach Paul Green rated him as “doubt­ful” af­ter picking up a calf in­jury in last week’s win over Souths.

Javid Bowen is ex­pected to take his place on the left edge.

“I’d say he’s doubt­ful at this stage,” Green said. “We need as much ex­pe­ri­ence out there as pos­si­ble and will give him every chance.”

HAPPY DAYS: Cow­boys sec­ond- rower Ethan Lowe in a re­laxed mood at train­ing this week. Pic­ture: EVAN MOR­GAN

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