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Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson in 2018.

After helping the Kiwis inflict the first defeat of Mal Meninga's tenure as Australia coach at Mt Smart Stadium in October, Shaun Johnson told reporters he was going to enjoy the moment.

"It's just nice to be standing here talking to you guys after a positive win with the Kiwis," Johnson said. "Obviously, a lot of the time I'm at the front when things aren't going well."

For those who do not deal with Johnson on a regular basis, the 28-year-old's comments and body language offered a surprising insight into the pressure he feels as the Warriors and New Zealand playmaker.

Even during good times, such as New Zealand's first triumph against the Kangaroos since 2015, Johnson couldn't shift his focus from the criticism he receives when things don't go well.

Johnson's response on Tuesday to the Warriors' decision to let him test the market before opening negotiations about a contract extension for the 2020 season was along those lines.

He interpreted their approach as meaning the club he has played his entire career for no longer wants him. Johnson took to social media to vent his feelings before advising Warriors CEO Cameron George and coach Stephen Kearney that he would seek an immediate release.

Shaun Johnson after the 2018 Test win over Australia.
Shaun Johnson after the 2018 Test win over Australia. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

In some ways that is understandable but given Johnson's reaction, it is not surprising to learn that the club has not totally ruled out letting him play elsewhere next season after advising his manager of their intentions in September.

Whether any club can accommodate him remains to be seen, although Cronulla may view Johnson as a replacement for Valentine Holmes.

The difficulty for the Sharks is that they are awaiting the outcome of an NRL investigation into alleged salary cap breaches and need to keep a spot in their roster for Holmes after only agreeing to release him on the condition he returns to the club next season if his bid for an NFL contracts fails.

Canberra do not have enough money under their cap for a player reportedly on a $1 million per season with the Warriors, while Parramatta have been trying to shift big name players to free up room for others signings without success.

George, Kearney and Warriors recruitment manager Peter O'Sullivan have decided they cannot afford to continue paying Johnson that type of money either, as captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – the 2018 Dally M player of the year – is now considered the face of the club.

The Warriors showed last year that they were prepared to play hardball with big-name stars by holding off negotiating with hooker Issac Luke until the end of the season and if Johnson stays beyond 2019 it is set to be on a reduced deal.

Warriors' top five tries of 2018

Johnson's contract has been compared to deals commanded by the likes of Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Daly Cherry-Evans but unlike the superstar trio he has not led the Warriors to a premiership in his eight years at the club and there are doubts about whether halfback is his best position.

New Zealand coach Michael Maguire shifted Johnson to five-eighth during the recent Test series against England and gave Brisbane's Kodi Nikorima the task of directing the Kiwis around.

If it was a ploy by Maguire to get the best out of Johnson by easing the pressure on him it didn't have the desired effect as he needed to step up and take responsibility for winning the game in the dying minutes of the first and second Tests but failed to involve himself enough.

Johnson has single-handedly won matches for the Kiwis and Warriors in the past - most memorably the epic World Cup semi-final defeat of England at Wembley Stadium in 2013 - but he is not considered a clutch player in the class of Thurston, Cronk or Cherry-Evans.

The Warriors appear to also be coming to the conclusion that Johnson is best suited at five-eighth but they are currently paying him to perform the role of an organising halfback and no longer feel it is in the best interests of the club for him to continue doing that.

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