Coach left me out of loop — Johnson fires first shot

Un­wanted star felt ex­cluded from War­riors lead­er­ship group

Hawke's Bay Today - - Sport - League

New Cronulla play­maker Shaun Johnson says War­riors coach Stephen Kear­ney “didn’t like me” and com­plained that he was left out of the loop when it came to the Auck­land NRL club’s play­ing ros­ters.

Af­ter go­ing on the charm of­fen­sive and re­fus­ing to fire shots at the War­riors early on in his first in­ter­view with Syd­ney me­dia, Johnson even­tu­ally re­vealed his re­la­tion­ship with Kear­ney had de­te­ri­o­rated long be­fore he was granted a re­lease last week from the fi­nal year of his mil­lion-dol­lar con­tract.

The 28-year-old de­tailed his frus­tra­tions about his time un­der Kear­ney — the for­mer Ki­wis coach who handed him his New Zealand test de­but back in 2012 — over the last two sea­sons, and shrugged off re­cent crit­i­cism of his form and at­ti­tude from War­riors CEO Cameron Ge­orge.

“I’ve been there eight years and had six coaches. The sixth coach didn’t like me. So what,” Johnson told the Daily Tele­graph.

“I rode the tough times, I tried to keep fans en­gaged, I tried to play a style that got kids ex­cited ev­ery week.

“I know that, my fam­ily knows that, which is why I can say no, it [leav­ing] doesn’t re­ally af­fect me.

“Re­gard­less of what a CEO says, that’s been there a year or two, it [love for the club] dates back a lot longer for me.”

The fact Sharks coach Shane Flana­gan was open in shar­ing his plans for his play­ers was ap­pre­ci­ated by Johnson, who felt hurt that he was kept in the dark by Kear­ney and pre­vi­ous War­riors man­age­ment over de­tails re­gard­ing the club’s roster.

“You want to go some­where and know what is go­ing on with the squad and Flanno [Flana­gan] was un­real in let­ting me know the ex­act sta­tus of ev­ery player,” he told the

Daily Tele­graph.

“Like, when they’re signed un­til and what they might be think­ing. And I was a part of that dis­cus­sion the first day I came over and that was re­ally big for me.

“I hadn’t had a con­ver­sa­tion like that at the War­riors for the last few years. I’d been left out of those con­ver­sa­tions.

“So to come here and be brought in and told ‘you’re go­ing to be in a key po­si­tion for us, you need to know what is go­ing on around you’, I was like ‘ahh — thank you’.”

The 162-game vet­eran also raved that the Sharks have a more in­clu­sive ap­proach to lead­er­ship within a squad stacked with Aus­tralian and Ton­gan in­ter­na­tion­als and State of Ori­gin representatives.

Like any team’s half­back, Johnson would be ex­pected to have a loud voice, but de­spite be­ing among the War­riors high­est earn­ers, he was not in­cluded in the club’s lead­er­ship group this year.

The side’s most re­li­able and ex­pe­ri­enced per­form­ers — Johnson’s halves partner Blake Green, for­mer skip­per Si­mon Man­ner­ing, and for­ward re­cruits Adam Blair and Tohu Harris — were ap­pointed as Tuiv­asa-Sheck’s lieu­tenants, while the hot-and-cold No 7 was al­lowed to fo­cus solely on his roam­ing at­tack­ing role.

“I’m still in awe of the ex­pe­ri­ence the Cronulla Sharks have within their play­ing group. I was think­ing about the lead­er­ship group, and you’re like, well who do you ac­tu­ally put in it? You’ve got so many play­ers that have played so many big games for their coun­try, ori­gins, grand fi­nals, what­ever it is, that it can be so im­por­tant to a side.

“Talk­ing to them over the last few days, ev­ery­one just con­trib­utes which is re­ally ex­cit­ing. I’ll just be look­ing to do the same.”

The War­riors have made it clear they held reser­va­tions about of­fer­ing Johnson a con­tract ex­ten­sion due to his in­con­sis­tent form.

In his eight sea­sons at the Pen­rose out­fit, the club lost the

2011 grand fi­nal to Manly in his rookie sea­son, but didn’t fea­ture in the top eight again un­til this year when they bowed out in week one of the play­offs fol­low­ing their qual­i­fy­ing-fi­nal de­feat to Pen­rith.

Johnson ac­knowl­edged the War­riors had played a big part in his de­vel­op­ment but ad­mit­ted he had grown stale at Mt Smart Sta­dium.

“The War­riors have been so good for me in that sense, build­ing me, build­ing me, build­ing me, but I’ve sort of hit a plateau there,” he said.

“There’s al­ways things I’m im­prov­ing in my game but just [not] that fresh­ness side of things to re­ally el­e­vate your­self. I’m look­ing for­ward to it.”

Johnson also re­vealed that in choos­ing to sign with the Sharks on a three-year deal, he had de­clined an op­por­tu­nity to join reign­ing premiers the Syd­ney Roost­ers in 2020, to suc­ceed Cooper Cronk as the Tri-Colours’ half­back.

Can­berra also ex­pressed in­ter­est in sign­ing him, but the Raiders were never re­ally in the race, and the beach­side sur­rounds of the Suther­land-Shire was al­ways likely to be his new home.

“The Raiders ob­vi­ously reached out and the Roost­ers were ap­peal­ing, but the Sharks with the roster and squad they’ve got, that’s ul­ti­mately what ex­cited me the most and where I felt I could add the most real value.”

"I’ve been there eight years and had six coaches. The sixth coach didn’t like me. "Shaun Johnson

PHOTO / PHO­TO­SPORT

War­riors coach Steven Kear­ney “didn’t like” departed half­back Shaun Johnson, ac­cord­ing to Cronulla’s lat­est re­cruit.

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