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Warriors set to dump million-dollar man

David Skipwith, NZ Herald ,
Sport News,
Publish Date
Friday, 26 October 2018, 10:30AM
Shaun Johnson of the Warriors in action during the round 24 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Penrith Panthers. Photo / Photosport.co.nz
Shaun Johnson of the Warriors in action during the round 24 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Penrith Panthers. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

Million dollar halfback Shaun Johnson's time in a Warriors jersey could be coming to an end.

The Kiwi test star has a year to run on his contract but with the NRL player transfer market opening on November 1 the Warriors are yet to make an offer to re-sign the 162 game veteran beyond next season.

The 28-year-old has been the Warriors chief playmaker since he first burst on to the scene in 2011 and retaining him has always been the club's number one priority - until now.

In a move that would previously have seemed unthinkable, the Herald understands the Auckland outfit have told Johnson to explore his options and test his value with rival clubs on the open market.

Johnson last year re-signed with the Warriors on a two-year deal worth seven figures making him the highest paid player in the club's history, however he has struggled to live up to his huge price tag.

Sources close to the Warriors have revealed they are no longer willing to fork out the sort of cash reserved only for the game's elite players to keep him on their books.

Consistency has eluded Johnson throughout his career and there are doubts the mercurial playmaker is the right man to steer the club to a historic first premiership win. It's understood the Warriors are keen to look elsewhere to see if there is a better long term option for the No 7 role.

The door is not shut on Johnson staying at Mt Smart but much like what unfolded with re-signed hooker Issac Luke, if they are to table a new offer it will be a drastically reduced deal.

Shaun Johnson and Blake Green. Photo Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.co.nz
Shaun Johnson and Blake Green. Photo Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.co.nz

Warriors CEO Cameron George confirmed the club was in no rush to re-sign Johnson and keeping their options open.

"The club are open-minded about the future and we'll talk to Shaun and his management when he gets back from overseas about the future," said George.

"We're very open-minded and with any recruitment decisions it's about the team and the club first. But whilst we're being open-minded about the future, we're not going to be scared to make big calls on any player.

"We want to win the competition and we'll be doing everything recruitment-wise to get the best people in the club to do so.

"We are not scared about making any big calls on our roster because we want to win this competition and everyone's always under review."

How Johnson reacts to the Warriors hesitancy will be intriguing. A change in scenery could be good for him and the club and it may be better to rip the Band-Aid off now.

What interest his agent Peter Brown is able to muster among rival clubs could potentially make the matter more urgent for both parties ahead of next season.

It's also understood the Warriors have a contingency plan in place to ensure they won't be caught short if Johnson was to depart following his return from the Kiwis end of year tour of England.

It remains to be seen whether any club has enough money remaining under the salary cap for next season to tempt Johnson to seek an early release but stranger things have happened in rugby league.

As last year's player transfer frenzy showed, once one big name decides to change clubs a domino effect follows.

Shaun Johnson. Photo Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz.
Shaun Johnson. Photo Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz.

Cooper Cronk's shoulder injury has some questioning if he will retire early having already accomplished his mission of delivering the Sydney Roosters a premiership win.

There are a host of other playmakers set to become free agents in 2020 including Luke Brooks, Mitchell Moses, Corey Norman, Ryley Jacks, Te Maire Martin, and former Warrior Ata Hingano.

Persistent rumours out of Sydney suggest Parramatta will be shopping both Moses and Norman around in the coming days. Last year Martin was in talks to join the Warriors when the club was searching for a replacement for Kieran Foran, before they secured the services of Blake Green.

The situation could bring out the best in Johnson. After starring at five-eighth in the Kiwis recent upset win over the Kangaroos, three more strong showings against England could strengthen his bargaining power and make him a more attractive buy for other clubs.

But one month of good form might not be enough to force the Warriors to rethink matters. They need him to be performing at a consistently high standard on a weekly basis.

Under head coach Stephen Kearney and the leadership of inspirational captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, the club has gone through a drastic overhaul over the past 18 months both in playing personnel and attitude.

Standards have been raised across the board and what was once good enough is no longer acceptable.

The Warriors lack of urgency in re-signing Johnson sends a clear message to the rest of the players that everyone is accountable.

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