LISTEN TO PHIL ROTHFIELD TALK WITH D'ARCY AND GORAN ABOVE
One of Australia's leading rugby league commentators expects fireworks when - not if - discarded Warriors playmaker Shaun Johnson joins the Cronulla Sharks today.
Veteran Daily Telegraph journalist Phil Rothfield says Johnson's greatest challenge could be to adapt to the Sharks' structured game plan while also warning that the 28-year-old won't be allowed to use the Cronulla-based club as a "transit lounge".
Rothfield told D'Arcy and Goran that Johnson is set to sign a three-year deal "before the end of the day [Thursday)" after an earlier request for a short-term deal was knocked back by the club.
"He's heading to Cronulla, a great signing for the club. I know him and his agent were originally keen on only doing a one-year deal to see how he settles in but there's a feeling at Cronulla that the club is not going to be used as a transit lounge that would open the door for a club like the Sydney Roosters to grab him in 2020 [when they lose superstar Cooper Cronk]," Rothfield said.
"They're in talks now just to ink the deal and I think by the end of the day Shaun Johnson will have signed a three-year contract with the Sharks."
This, despite the fact that the club recently laid off ten employees due to financial constraints, Rothfield revealed.
The Warriors' decision to cut ties with Johnson after an eight-year relationship, didn't come as a surprise.
"It's a bit of a shame for the game. He is the most popular rugby league player in New Zealand beyond doubt with that enormous social media following. I think Shaun Johnson plays five or six 9/10 games every year but I don't think he turns up every week," said Rothfield.
"You saw that in the semifinal against Penrith at ANZ Stadium when the Warriors bombed out so poorly after a great year. He does need to find more consistency to become a truly great player."
Rothfield had heard rumours of discontent prior to Johnson's sudden departure from across the ditch.
"I don't know how he fitted in with the rest of the players. I'm not saying it was a split dressing room but what I can tell you is [that he was] always last to arrive and first to leave and he wasn't a great team player.
"I don't think he got on particularly well with Stephen Kearney because the attitude he had was probably more about him than the team. That's why there was the breakdown and why the CEO [Cameron George] didn't give him the departure comments that he deserved."
Johnson would be a smart buy and could succeed at the Sharks, Rothfield says - provided he can adapt to Sharks coach Shane Flanagan's game plan.
"From a marketing point of view, to get bums on seats, to sell jerseys I think it's a fantastic signing for the club. I think he [Johnson] could be a better player with a stronger, more experienced forward pack which he'll have at the Sharks next season. Shaun is just a brilliant individualist," Rothfield said.
"[Flanagan] is very much into structured rugby league. He likes to stick to the game plan but I don't think you can put the shackles on Johnson. He needs freedom. He needs a license to roam."\