Johnson's commitment to Warriors finally pays off
Shaun Johnson once said the thought of winning elsewhere "didn't sit right with him".
Upon re-signing with the New Zealand Warriors on a two-year deal in April 2017, Johnson stated he wouldn't be satisfied if he had walked away.
That was after the Warriors only managed 10 wins in 2016. In the previous season they lost their final eight games.
And it didn't get any better in 2017 with the Auckland-based side losing its remaining eight games again.
The 2014 Golden Boot recipient said it wasn't how things were meant to go.
"I was close to leaving, probably a lot closer than I ever thought I would be but this place is home," Johnson told NRL.com.
"I grew up just wanting to play for the Warriors. The thought of being a one-club person excites me, but I did get faced with that option to leave and see where I could take my career, to see if I had a better chance of playing better footy elsewhere in a different system, those were all things I had to take into consideration.
"But I love the group that we've got here, I love the coaching staff we have here right from the top, I feel there is real stability there."
Stability, a word not often synonymous with the Warriors, now seems fitting in some respects.
The club sprinted out of the gates, winning the opening five rounds and defeating St George Illawarra in the much-anticipated top of the table round-seven clash.
Everything was on track for the Warriors to reach the finals for the first time in seven seasons.
Until it looked like the old Warriors resurfaced.
There was the 36-4 thumping by Penrith without their star halves, James Maloney and Nathan Cleary.
Issac Luke, who's notably looked his best since winning the 2014 premiership with South Sydney, was in and out of the side with shoulder and calf injuries.
Tohu Harris and Adam Blair spent time on the sidelines with niggling injuries.
And, like it so often does, along with the losses and inconsistencies, came the criticism.
It's a "bro culture", they said. They're not fit, said others. An opinion Johnson has heard time and time again.
"There are going to be people that change their opinions of us week to week, and we've found that this year already," he said.
"I just don't have anything to say to them, why would I bother putting my energy towards them?"
Johnson's energy will now be zeroed in on getting past the first round of the finals, his first since his own debut post-season appearance in 2011.
This year Johnson has been able to go back to his style of play thanks in part to his halves partner Blake Green.
The veteran five-eighth joined the Warriors this season and their combination in the opening rounds had many touting Green for a NSW call-up and hailing the return of Johnson's running game.
"Greeny has been massive, just not for me but for the whole group, he's brought a certain outlook on the game, a certain confidence that's been missing in this club for a while," he said.
"When you go through those rough patches it can begin to chip away at your confidence and your belief like 'is it going to happen again, is it going to happen again'.
"Having Greeny, having Blair and Tohu those sorts of players, but in particular Greeny, he's been a real rock for our side this year, he's been the driver for our side this year, our leader and he's been massive for my game."
The Warriors head into the first round in ominous form. They're healthy, hungry, and expect a lot out of themselves. Most of all, they know the pain and years of losing.
"With the group we've got around us, we've got sort of a mix around us, old and young," he said.
"We've got guys that have been in successful teams and successful organisations, we've got a bit of everything.
"Last year I was injured and it was rough. I'd played in a season where we went on a bit of a run and then I got dropped in the last game, that was a tough patch.
"I couldn't contribute, I couldn't help, I couldn't be in there with them. No one wants to go through that, but you have to take something out of it and I think you can see from our footy this year we have learned those lessons."
For Johnson, he'll no doubt be hoping the finals success he has craved for so long is just around the corner.
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