MUCH has been made of Shaun Johnson’s departure from the New Zealand Warriors and his subsequent (and swift) move to the Cronulla Sharks.
An ever hyped superstar halfback, Johnson has yet to steer a team to a premiership but often has heads turning for all the right reasons. At just 28 years old, you could be called a fool for thinking his best days are behind him.
A New Zealand representative with 29 caps, Johnson arrives at Cronulla as the man who will replace Valentine Holmes, not position-wise but as one of the club’s marquee signings.
Arriving at the Warriors in 2009, he would shock viewers and pundits alike with his mesmerising footwork, dazzling skill, slick kicking game and calm under pressure. But fast forward to 2018 and he becomes less of a hero and more of a villain in the fairy tale world we call rugby league.
Most fans would agree with me that punters expect as close to perfection as possible from every player at their club. A fan favourite when lighting up the game, Johnson’s string of injuries and lacklustre form would prove his undoing as his former club advised him he would not be offered a contract beyond next season.
What would you do if you were Johnson? The club you have represented for almost a decade, in your home country of which you have represented multiple times no longer wants you.
There comes a time in rugby league when a player realises that loyalty is all but dead, and business reigns supreme. The day he realised this is the day he requested – and was granted – a release from the Warriors.
With Holmes having his bags packed for the United States, the Sharks had cash to splash and pounced on a man who has had more good games than bad. A true match winner. A player who can, in the right environment lead a team up the ladder.
With no offence aimed at the New Zealand Warriors club, Johnson could be forgiven for throwing in the towel given the weight of expectations on the halfback’s head. Here was a young, raw athlete who was expected to be a match winner every week.
Unfortunately, most of the time he didn’t have the bodies around him to help make that expectation a reality.
They say a change is as good as a holiday. I see Johnson’s arrival at Cronulla as a blessing for the Sharks, something many fans may not agree with.
They will now have the chance to put the dynamic Matt Moylan in Holmes’ number one jersey where his explosive speed and ball skills can be utilised to the max.
Johnson will slot into the halves partnering Chad Townsend, a composed footballer who knows how to do his job, and do it very well.
The backs are solid. They pick up a hell of a defensive centre in Josh Morris, winger Sione Katoa impressed in 2018 and Josh Dugan will be hoping his injuries are behind him. If they are, they have little to complain about when it comes to their outside backs.
Jayden Brailey is one year better off as a starting hooker, Gallen has the experience to lead from the front along with controversial prop Andrew Fifita and now representative forward Matt Prior, not to mention the often criticised but always impressive Aaron Woods.
They may have lost Luke Lewis but still boast a formidable back row of Gallen, Wade Graham and Scott Sorensen who himself had an impressive debut last season.
Their depth will be tested at times, and their bench may be lacking with the loss of James Segeyaro, but I still believe the criticism of their squad, Johnson’s arrival and their chances in 2019 are harsh. I expect to see them in the top 6.