Po­si­tional switch pos­si­ble for John­son

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

Weekend Herald - - Rugby - 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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