‘I didn’t think the Warriors needed me’: The moment that sparked Johnson’s remarkable resurgence

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A little more than a week ago, Shaun Johnson took to the stage to accept three awards at the Warriors’ presentation night.

“For me to be up here right now is crazy,” Johnson told the audience.

“Far out, it’s crazy because this time last year, how different the situation was for me personally, for the club. I didn’t think it was what the Warriors needed, for me to come back.”

Johnson did return, and what a comeback it has been. Having won the Simon Mannering Medal as the club’s best player, there is every chance he could yet finish the season with the Dally M Medal around his neck. And maybe even a premiership ring.

Some in the crowd at the Viaduct Events Centre in Auckland felt Johnson’s acceptance speech was among the best they had witnessed. In it, he thanked his teammates, coaches and family for helping him to resurrect a career that was seemingly on the scrapheap.

“It’s purely just what I wanted in my heart,” Johnson said. “I wanted to come back here and when I thought about winning, this was the place where I wanted to do it.”

Shaun Johnson has been at the heart of a remarkable season for the Warriors.Credit: Getty

Johnson made special mention of Warriors chief executive Cameron George, alluding to a difficult conversation they had, alongside then interim coach Stacey Jones, last year.

When the trio sat down at a coffee shop in Redcliffe to discuss Johnson’s playing future, ahead of the Warriors’ homecoming game against West Tigers, the halfback wasn’t sure he had one.

Homesick after living away from home due to COVID, with the critics lambasting his performances, Johnson contemplated retirement.

“At the end of the day, I’m sure it crossed his mind, absolutely,” George said. “There were plenty of people on the outside calling for it. He was getting grenades thrown at him left, right and centre. It just shows his resilience that he got through it.

Johnson’s tally of 27 try assists this season is a career high.Credit: Getty

“He was in a pretty dark space; it was a tough period in his life with his wife and family.

“He was doing it pretty tough and we had a pretty confronting conversation that day about life and what he wants out of it. Ultimately, he had to make that decision and he backed himself, which is a tremendous credit to him.”

At the age of 32, Johnson is now producing arguably the best form of his career. The rebound hasn’t been lost on his rivals: earlier this year, Wests Tigers attempted to lure him back across the Tasman on a two-year deal. Instead, the former Cronulla playmaker recommitted to the Warriors until at least the end of 2024.

Not that it has all been smooth sailing. Johnson was ruled out of the Warriors’ biggest game to date, last week’s opening finals loss to Penrith. The club is hopeful he will overcome a calf injury in time to take his place in the semi-final against Newcastle at Go Media Stadium in Auckland on Saturday.

“Shaun has progressed well this week undergoing various training scenarios. He trained well this morning [Wednesday] by himself,” the Warriors said in a statement.

“Tomorrow Shaun will not train with the team to enable him to have the best preparation for game day on Saturday.”

After watching him burst onto the scene as a carefree spirit, George has witnessed Johnson evolve into a family man who has matured on and off the field.

“Above all, what I saw [at the presentation] night was a man who cared for his club and his teammates,” George said.

“He made the decision to play on this year to try to help them. If he dreamed of winning, it was only ever here at the Warriors. That shows his resilience, passion and care for the club and teammates, which is a wonderful attribute.”

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