Shaun Johnson, Warriors halves, Te Maire Martin, Luke Metcalf, Ronald Volkman, Chanel Harris-Tavita

The fact the Warriors have five halves on their books is evidence Shaun Johnson was not in their future plans in 2022, but 12 months later he is the favourite for the Dally M Medal.

The Warriors finished second last in 2022 with just six wins and Johnson was looking at being forced into early retirement, but 12 months later he is 80 minutes away from a grand final after leading his side to a top four finish and a preliminary final.

Johnson will go up against another veteran halfback in Adam Reynolds who was not seen as part of the Rabbitohs’ future plans, before finding career best form with the Broncos.

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“You have got the two veteran halves arguably in the best form that they have ever been in and almost the best two halves in the competition at the moment with Reynolds taking on Johnson,” Braith Anasta said on NRL 360.

“This sets up to be an epic battle.”

Paul Crawley believes the evidence of Johnson’s impact on the Warriors is the turnaround from their 32-6 loss to the Panthers without him and their 40-10 demolition of the Knights a week later after his return from a calf injury.

“It is great you have got two backlines that are just full of strike,” Crawley said.

“You have got two really tough forward packs and you have got halfbacks at the age of 33 respectively that are playing in the form of their life.


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Shaun Johnson has matured into a game manager.Source: Getty Images

“Shaun Johnson came back form a calf injury and we were talking about Jahrome Hughes who came back form a calf injury. The way that Johnson started that game was phenomenal.

“And first up for the Broncos Reynolds was near 10 out of 10 in their first up victory so that is just going to be a great game.

“I think the Warriors learnt a lot in that first loss to the Panthers. They were left at the gates that day. They played timid. Then the way that they responded last week showed they learnt from their mistakes.

“I don’t think we will see the same Warriors team that we saw in week one going up to Brisbane.”

Andrew Webster has brought out the best in Johnson.Source: Getty Images

Dave Riccio believes Johnson was on the outer last year, which is why the Warriors signed four halves to bolster their depth amid his looming retirement.

However, now that Johnson looks set to play on in 2024, the Warriors will need to offload one or two playmakers.

“I know we have waxed lyrical about Shaun Johnson, but I don’t think we can underestimate how far he has come,” Riccio said.

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Te Maire Martin will be one of five halves at the Warriors in 2024.Source: Getty Images

“This time 12 months ago the Warriors were preparing to sit down with Johnson and to talk to him about retiring.

“To that point, and this is the greatest indication that the Warriors didn’t believe they would be going around with Shaun Johnson next year. They have signed at their footy club in their halves they have Chanel Harris-Tavita coming back from an early retirement. They have got Te Maire Martin, Ronald Volkman, Luke Metcalf and Johnson.

“Now that they want to re-sign Shaun Johnson, that is five halves. That is how are far down the road the Warriors were to not having Johnson at the footy club.

“To the point they are going to have to offload one next year. You just can’t have five halves at your club.

“It is a remarkable turnaround in form and undeniably the reason the Warriors are here where they are.”

Anasta believes Warriors coach Andrew Webster and Johnson are favourites for Dally M gongs and the impact of halfback and coach on each other and the team can’t be underestimated.

“Hopefully the Warriors can ride this wave of confidence and the whole of New Zealand are behind them, they could have the Dally M coach of the year and they could also have the Dally M player of the year,” Anasta said.

Luke Metcalf was signed to play No.6 for the Warriors.Source: Supplied

“That’s pretty special the way that both Johnson and Webster have performed in their roles this season.”

Crawley believes only Newcastle’s Kalyn Ponga can catch Johnson for the Dally M Medal, but given his injuries and Newcastle’s early season form he may have left his run too late.

“It is hard to see a serious challenger for Johnson not getting the Dally M Medal because if you go through it, Reece Walsh can’t get the award because of his suspension,” Crawley said.

“I think Ponga will finish like a house on fire. He would have had to get close to three points out of eight of those games that the Knights won on the run home.

“Daly Cherry-Evans is maybe a person that may figure in the contest and Dylan Edwards is another. Payne Haas maybe, but there are so many Broncos that are going to take the points off him.

Ronald Volkman was seen as a Johnson’s potential replacement at No.7.Source: Getty Images

“But I just think Johnson is the clear standout.

“Your early memories of Johnson was in 2011 when he just exploded onto the scene as this absolutely brilliant individual player.

“You never thought that he would develop into the team manager that he is today.”

Anasta lauded Johnson’s maturity in accepting he was no longer the young star with brilliant footwork and transforming himself into a reliable game manager in 2023.

“It is the maturity of Shaun because in the last few years when he lost that fleet-footed, like the footwork was better than everyone else,” Anasta explained.

Chanel Harris-Tavita returns from early retirement in 2024.Source: Getty Images

“He had the best footwork in the game other than maybe Benji Marshall. He had the ball skills and the speed and agility and he beat defenders at will.

“But he always struggled with his game management because game management and the Warriors didn’t go hand-in-hand.

“That is probably what held the Warriors back form semi-finals and grand finals is that you need that player to take and own the team and he has found that.

“He has found that through when you get older you get more experience and you don’t have that footwork and speed so you have got to look at other strengths and other ways to manipulate oppositions.

Johnson is in the best form of his career.Source: Supplied

“He has just grown and flourished and he has made every player around him even better, which is a great sign of a great player.”

Crawley noted that Benji Marshall used to be the game manager at Test level to allow Johnson to play to his strengths, but now the Warriors No.7 has come full circle in the twilight of his career.

“It wasn’t that many years ago when he was playing Test football with Benji and I remember Benji used to say he wanted to run the team and Shaun, you just go out there and play your game,” Crawley recalled.

“Even then we thought this would never happen, but it has just been remarkable. I didn’t think he could do what he did this year.”

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