Cronulla Sharks coach John Morris has stepped into bat for the under fire Shaun Johnson, following criticism of the Kiwis halfback.
Despite the Sharks' 26-16 victory over the North Queensland Cowboys last weekend, Johnson came under fire from former Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters halfback Cooper Cronk, accused of "firing blanks" since his high profile arrival from the Warriors.
"Johnson won the Golden Boot in 2014, signed with the Sharks on a three-year deal - this is his second - and to be honest he's fired blanks since arriving," Cronk said.
However, speaking to radio station 2GB, Morris stepped in to defend Johnson, hailing the improvement of the 29-year-old Kiwis international since his arrival in Cronulla.
"He's worked really hard on his game, Shaun," Morris said.
"I give him a lot of credit because a lot of people only see him out there on the field and judge him on that 80 minutes, which is clearly fairly important, but behind the scenes he's really worked hard on his game and he continues to work hard on his game.
"I think it's just a matter of getting his confidence back up. Once it takes a bit of a knock, it's hard to get back. One thing he has been doing is working really hard on it and we're all hoping that he can bring his best."
Another prominent voice to defend Johnson came from ex-Sharks and New South Wales captain Paul Gallen, telling Channel Nine that:
"To me Shaun just needs to run the ball more, he's such a good player, so much talent, we all know how much talent he's got," Gallen said.
"For me he needs to touch the ball more and run the ball more. He's a big body, he's not a small halfback, he's not a timid halfback, he just needs to get his hands on the ball more and if he can do that I think he'll be OK."
Despite the criticism, Johnson has been named to start at five-eighth for the Sharks, when they face the winless Dragons on Sunday.