Downer NRL Auckland Nines captains | Back row (left to right): Tariq Sims (Knights), Gavin Cooper (Cowboys), Jeremy Latimore (Panthers), Chris Lawrence (Wests Tigers), Shaun Johnson (Vodafone Warriors), Greg Eastwood (Bulldogs), Jake Trbojevic (Sea Eagles), Sam Thaiday (Broncos). Front row (left to right): Josh Dugan (Dragons), Jarrod Croker (Raiders), Chris Heighington (Sharks), John Sutton (Rabbitohs), Daniel Mortimer (Titans), Braith Anasta (Roosters), Corey Norman (Eels), Blake Green (Storm).  www.photosport.nz

Vodafone Warriors captain Shaun Johnson's return from a dislocated and broken ankle at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines this weekend has been designed for him to buck any mental concerns he has before the Telstra NRL Premiership season kicks off next month.

Having spent the entire pre-season on the mend, Johnson refused to say he was 100 per cent, though the halfback jokingly said not to expect much from him.

"If I go out there during the tournament and cake it then there won't be any bad media so I'll say yes [not to expect much] – I'm going to be ordinary tomorrow so give me a couple of weeks," Johnson said, tongue-in-cheek. 

"Though seriously the last little bit for me to get around is the mental side of things. I've had plenty of time to heal and I've done a lot of strength work with it so now it's about going out there and playing an actual game which is the bit I can't wait for.

"At the moment I'm excited but when the games come I'm sure I'll be feeling the nerves. Coming into things like this, and seeing all the other clubs here, it means that things are starting to become real so I'm looking forward to it."

Having fallen short in the first two editions of the tournament, Johnson didn't shy away from the fact what the Nines mean to not only the Vodafone Warriors but New Zealand as a whole. 

"It's going to be disappointing if we don't win it one of these years. We're very lucky to have it in our home town and we understand the effect the tournament has on this city and New Zealand in general so for us to do well it's pretty important," Johnson said.

"A tournament like this is pretty unpredictable so I'm not sure which teams will show up with the right attitude and take it seriously. I haven't seen any of the sides except for the Cowboys but I'm sure every game will be tough."

Johnson remained confident of his team's chances for the coming weekend. 

"We have managed to have three sessions [relating to Nines]. Our bigger picture is obviously the NRL season, but we really want to do well this weekend," he said.

"I'm confident that if we take the principles we have trained with all pre-season into the Nines then we'll do well. We're no different than any other side, we're all doing pre-season and we're feeling fresh so it'll be good to see how we match up."

The Vodafone Warriors are in Hunua Pool alongside the Bulldogs (2.20pm tomorrow), Sea Eagles (6.15pm tomorrow) and Broncos (12.40pm Sunday).

  • This story first appeared on nrl.com