Weekend Herald

Positional switch possible for Johnson

Expected one-year deal with the Cronulla Sharks brings new opportunit­ies for unwanted Warriors star

- David Skipwith

Shaun Johnson’s anticipate­d move to Cronulla would not only bring a change of scenery but could also see the former Warriors star make a positional switch from halfback to five-eighth.

Johnson’s NRL career remains up in the air after he was granted a release from the Warriors on Wednesday but it’s widely expected he will join the Sharks next season on a one-year deal.

Warriors captain Roger TuivasaShe­ck yesterday took to social media to wish his former teammate all the best for the future, joking he was anxious about the prospect of lining up against his good friend next season.

“Crazy week! All the best with what’s next bro. Been a pleasure. Don’t step me,” Tuivasa-Sheck posted, to which Johnson replied: “Damn, its gonna be weird playing the boys. Thanks bro, pleasure has been all mine, skip.”

The touted move to the Shane Flanagan-coached side could see Johnson relinquish his favoured No 7 jersey and slot into the Sharks halves alongside halfback and his former Warriors teammate Chad Townsend.

The move out to five-eighth would follow his selection at No 6 for the Kiwis for their shock win over Australia in Auckland in October and throughout the end-of-year 2-1 test series loss in England.

Johnson has played most of his 162 games for the Warriors at halfback but this year played more like a fiveeighth in a roving role, while No 6 Blake Green took on the organising responsibi­lities.

The change eased the burden on Johnson and allowed him to inject himself into the attack whenever he saw opportunit­ies to unleash his dangerous running game.

Fox Sports pundit Matthew Johns believes the Sharks could follow New Zealand coach Michael Maguire’s lead in selecting Johnson at five-eighth, while suggesting Flanagan could also play him at fullback in tandem with Sharks playmaker Matt Moylan.

“If I had the opportunit­y to coach him at the start of his first-grade career, I’d have been tempted to play him at fullback because he’s a brilliant reactive footballer,” Johns said.

“But the great news, as far as the Cronulla Sharks, if they’re going to sign Shaun Johnson next year, is that the No 6 and the No 1 play almost interchang­eable roles in the modern game.

“The best teams play that way, where the No 6 and No 1, they do a little bit of playmaking, and a fair bit of running — they play interchang­eable roles.

“I always look at Moylan as more of a No 1 than he is a No 6, but he’s

Crazy week! All the best with what’s next bro. Been a pleasure. Don’t step me. Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck takes to social media to wish Shaun Johnson the best for the future

comfortabl­e playing in the halves, and Johnson, as I’ve said before, could do vice-versa.”

Moylan is tipped to move from five-eighth into the No 1 spot but Johns believes he and Johnson could wreak havoc alternatin­g between the two positions to add further variation to the Sharks attack.

“There might be the temptation [for Flanagan] to say, ‘for the next 20 minutes, Shaun, I want you to slip back into the fullback role. Let’s see what you can do on kick returns.’

“I think all in all, it’d be a great signing for the Sharks, and I think it’ll be a really good move for Shaun Johnson.”

Joining the Sharks would also see Johnson benefit from playing behind Cronulla’s monster forward pack, with the likes of wrecking ball Andrew Fifita, captain Paul Gallen and skilful back rower Wade Graham sure to provide him with time and space to work in.

However, should Johnson’s move to the Sharks be confirmed, it will be intriguing to see how he adjusts to his new surrounds and fits in under a new regime.

Flanagan is known for taking no prisoners as a coach, demanding excellence from his players and having no time for those who fail to pull their weight.

Gallen, too, is one of the most hard-nosed profession­als in the NRL and the outspoken front rower won’t pussy-foot around in telling Johnson exactly what is expected of their new star recruit. Johnson is accustomed to pressure but struggled under the weight of expectatio­n at the Warriors, but that will only intensify while he is living and playing in the goldfish bowl environmen­t of Sydney.

If Johnson does sign only a shortterm deal for next year, the heat will also be on him to make a swift transition and perform at his best throughout the season to enable him to secure another contract for 2020 and beyond.

It’s been floated that Cronulla may be a launching pad for Johnson only to take his career on to another rival club, with reigning premiers the Sydney Roosters a potential end destinatio­n for him beyond 2019.

Both clubs will present Johnson with opportunit­ies to make a strong tilt at a premiershi­p title but he will need to rediscover his best form next season to help him realise that dream.

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