Fail­ure to make John­son cap­tain a mis­take: El­liott

Herald on Sunday - - SPORT - Michael Burgess

Shaun John­son’s true po­ten­tial will man­i­fest it­self only when he is given more lead­er­ship re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to for­mer War­riors coach Matt El­liott.

El­liott, who was at the helm at Mt Smart from Oc­to­ber 2012 un­til April 2014, says John­son can progress from “re­ally good to great” but needs to be tested with a more se­nior role.

El­liott, who has also coached the Raiders (125 NRL games) and Pan­thers (111), says his de­ci­sion not to pro­mote John­son to the lead­er­ship group dur­ing his ten­ure at the War­riors was a ma­jor mis­take.

John­son has been a hot topic in the past two weeks, since the Her­ald on Sun­day re­vealed the War­riors had in­vited his man­age­ment to ex­plore other op­tions when the trans­fer win­dow opened on Novem­ber 1.

That’s put his fu­ture in doubt, with ques­tions over whether the club is pre­pared to in­vest heav­ily in John­son, whose pre­vi­ous con­tract made him the first War­riors mil­lion-dol­lar player.

The half­back has ap­peared to be af­fected by the spec­u­la­tion, with mixed games in the first two tests in Eng­land af­ter a su­perb dis­play in the win over the Kan­ga­roos last month.

Talks with the War­riors are ex­pected to be­gin in Jan­uary, af­ter John­son re­turns from his hol­i­day fol­low­ing the Ki­wis tour.

“It’s been an in­ter­est­ing one to ob­serve from a dis­tance,” said El­liott. “Time catches up with you; Shaun is 28. He was a 24-year-old when I was as­so­ci­ated with him.”

El­liott feels a de­ci­sion he made at the start of 2014 was piv­otal.

“I made a mis­take coach­ing Shaun,” said El­liott. “Shaun cap­tained the Nines team in 2014 and he did an out­stand­ing job. Some of the play­ing group thought he was a bit over-zeal­ous with that — I’m not go­ing to go into who — but I got that wrong.

“I think the fact Shaun hasn’t had an es­tab­lished lead­er­ship role — and think of the po­si­tion he plays — that was a fail­ing by me. I saw some un­be­liev­able lead­er­ship qual­i­ties dur­ing that Nines se­ries, I re­ally did.

“For Shaun to progress as a player . . . he doesn’t need to be cap­tain of a team but he needs to be an in­te­gral part of the lead­er­ship group.

“Re­gard­less of whether Shaun wanted to be in the lead­er­ship group, he needed to be in there. He was ready. That tour­na­ment showed he was ready.

“He has got lead­er­ship skills that haven’t been tapped into and that’s the good-to-great bit for Shaun.”

A pre­vail­ing view in league cir­cles is that John­son, as a se­nior play­maker, goal kicker, go-to man on at­tack and the face of the club, has enough on his plate and any added re­spon­si­bil­ity would be a bur­den, but El­liott dis­agrees.

“[A se­nior lead­er­ship] role may be hap­pen­ing at the War­riors — but it doesn’t feel that way,” said El­liott. “Shaun’s a re­ally, re­ally good player who has great­ness in him. Peo­ple think that great­ness is go­ing to man­i­fest by him do­ing all this ex­tra­or­di­nary stuff, but the great­ness for me will man­i­fest through lead­er­ship.”

El­liott also thinks it could be the so­lu­tion for John­son’s much-de­bated con­sis­tency.

“If you are a leader or a skip­per, ac­count­abil­ity to be con­sis­tent and lead the team by per­for­mance in­creases,” added El­liott. “Maybe that in­con­sis­tency comes through Shaun per­form­ing a role, rather than be­ing his best self and lead­ing.”

The fact Shaun hasn’t had an es­tab­lished lead­er­ship role — that was a fail­ing by me. I saw some un­be­liev­able lead­er­ship qual­i­ties.

For­mer War­riors coach Matt El­liott

El­liott also feels a move from Mt Smart, as much as it would be a shock for many fans, might be mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial.

“It could be the best thing for both par­ties,” said El­liott. “Peo­ple haven’t seen Shaun as a leader at the War­riors for a long time now, and maybe he needs to go some­where where he gets given that re­spon­si­bil­ity. “Some­times a change in en­vi­ron­ment can stim­u­late that growth [and maybe] Shaun’s most ex­tra­or­di­nary foot­ball is avail­able at an­other club.” What­ever hap­pens, El­liott is back­ing John­son to one day claim the sport’s ul­ti­mate prize.

“Shaun has the ca­pa­bil­ity, un­doubt­edly, of help­ing a team win a grand fi­nal,” said El­liott. “A lot of the neg­a­tive at­ten­tion he gets is not fair. Tell me how many half­backs play well when your for­ward pack is not go­ing for­ward. Name one. “Johnathan Thurston was get­ting a lot of crit­i­cism last sea­son but his for­wards weren’t go­ing for­ward. That’s the na­ture of the po­si­tion.

“The War­riors pack got beaten up and peo­ple blame Shaun. It is not a mys­tery. You get Shaun quick play-the-balls, and good luck to the op­po­si­tion.”

Photo / Photosport

Shaun John­son is rated highly by Matt El­liott.

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