Opportunity knocks: Shaun Johnson not dwelling on disappointment

Star Sharks signing Shaun Johnson has hinted at his dissatisfaction over his unceremonious departure from the Warriors while also declaring his move to Cronulla as the right time to leave and perfect opportunity to develop.

Unveiled at Cronulla Leagues Club in his first media session as a Shark on Thursday morning, he was repeatedly given opportunities to sink the boot into the club where he became a rugby league superstar and the virtual face of the game in New Zealand.

However, he repeatedly turned the focus back to what he could offer Cronulla fans and the reasons he took up a three-year deal in the Sutherland Shire.

His signing gives the Sharks an ideal replacement for star fullback Valentine Holmes, who was released from the final year of his contract in a bid to crack it in the NFL.

Why Cronulla – and it's not the money

Johnson admitted there was certain appeal to the interest he fielded from the likes of Canberra and the Roosters from 2020 and he insisted the "easy" option would be to enjoy the big money on offer in his final year in Auckland before a possible move to the Tricolours rather than taking a short-term pay cut.

"When I found out they were a chance of getting me this year, that changed things a bit because of how things were playing out back home," he said.

"The squad here and the roster they've got, that's what excited me the most and where I felt I can add value.

"Their style of footy suits me, they're a tough side and that's only going to benefit me. Regardless of whether it was this year or next year … this was the team I probably wanted to come to.

"People want to talk about why they believe I left – it was 'he wanted to chase the money' or 'he's a sook and wanted out. The easy thing to do would be to stay. I had one year left there, my family is there and I could have just stayed there, played a year and hunted for a contract next year. This was no easy decision.

"It was never an easy decision to ask the Warriors for a release, something I thought I'd never do. And then to be granted it, come to Sydney the next day, it's just been crazy, honestly, it's off its head.

"I probably could have stayed one year, but how engaged and how much contribution I was able to give after hearing what had been said and knowing how the Warriors felt about me, that was the bit that made me go 'I don't want to waste a year because we don't have too long in this game'."

Stability, honesty and being included

In Shaun Johnson's 163-game career, he's had six coaches; in that whole time Cronulla have had just one (barring their tumultuous 2014).

Shane Flanagan was up front with Johnson about how he saw the playmaker fitting into the team (likely as a five-eighth alongside Chad Townsend with Matt Moylan reverting to fullback).

It all gave the 28-year-old confidence this was an environment in which he could thrive and develop.

"The Warriors have been so good for me in that sense, building me, building me, building me but I've sort of hit a plateau there," Johnson said.

"I was saying to Flanno, there's been a bit of media around the club [with the financial situation] that I was obviously keeping up to date with so we had some honest conversations before I'd even signed.

Sharks recruit Shaun Johnson.
Sharks recruit Shaun Johnson. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

"Everything that was happening with the club, they filled me in, we were all honest, that's all you can do. I've come from a system where it has been a little inconsistent with coaches, players moving, results, owners even.

"To come to a place where it is, you've got those faces that have been around a long time, it gives you that security and that's what you want."

While Johnson was disappointed to be leaving the Warriors after the club looked to have turned a corner and had a positive season, the timing was excellent from a personal development perspective.

"I was getting to a point in my career, I'm 28 now, just over 150 games – I think it's going to give me a new lease on life, a little spark, somewhere new, working with players with such experience that have played at real elite levels," he said.

"Rubbing shoulders with that day to day is really good for me. Then I see some of the kids, I was just out watching training and seen some of the kids I've just never seen before.

"It's just new faces and you're going 'who's that? Far out who's that bro?' It's all fresh, it's all exciting and that's the most exciting thing about all of this."

No hard feelings… or maybe a couple

Johnson repeatedly refuses to be drawn into having a dig at his former club but does reveal he did not agree with releasing James Gavet and Mason Lino to Newcastle. He also indicates the relationship between himself and coach Stephen Kearney was not headed for long-term success.

"It's going to hurt somewhat [being told to look elsewhere], but at the end of the day I know I gave everything I had. Not for one year, two years – I rode through the years when the club was at the bottom," Johnson said.

"I could have left a couple of years ago and didn't. I know deep down that I gave it a crack."

Shaun Johnson is grilled by the media at Shark Park.
Shaun Johnson is grilled by the media at Shark Park. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Johnson said there was no point and no value in responding to public comments from CEO Cameron George, who implied the playmaker had not produced consistently for the club.

"Regardless of what the CEO says, who has been there a year or two, it [the team's consistency] dates back a lot longer than me," Johnson said.

"That's why when people say 'does it hurt?', it's like 'yeah, but not to the extent that everyone is trying to make out.'

"I've been there eight years and had six coaches. So the sixth coach didn't like me. So what? You know what I mean?

"I rode the tough time, I gave it a crack. I tried to keep fans engaged in their seats, I tried to play a style of footy that was going to get kids excited every week. I know that, my family knows that and the people who know me know that, which is why I can say no, it doesn't really affect me.

"I felt disappointed with the changes happening at the club. With James Gavet being released, Mason Lino being released.

"Those two were such massive contributors to us getting back into the finals. I looked at it as [we should be] consolidating that squad.

"We added Leeson [Ah Mau, to replace Simon Mannering] – let's build on what we have. But then with that being broken up, far out, that's interesting."

A new old halves partner

Johnson is looking forward to rekindling his combination with Chad Townsend, his halves partner of 2014-15, and is impressed with the 2016 premiership-winner's development since leaving Auckland.

"I think he came back in his first year didn't he and won the comp? Bastard!" Johnson laughed.

"He's always been a real professional. He's always been a student. He wants to learn and he loves footy. There was no surprise when he's gone onto have the career he's had since he came back.

"He's been one of the more consistent halves in the game, goes about his business quietly, real solid kicking game, good defender.

"I've been so happy for him to see him kick on the way he has because I know he came over to the Warriors looking for that opportunity so to be able to come back to the club he left established and being able to lead the boys to a premiership and another couple of successful years where they're finishing fourth or fifth, it's a credit.

I think it's going to give me a new lease on life, a little spark, somewhere new.

Shaun Johnson

"I think we can do some good things together."

Having played together will be an advantage with Johnson not set to start ballwork sessions until January.

"We're not going to be hissing round one but that's never the plan to be hissing round one, you want to be hissing come round 24, 25," he said.

"It's going to take time. At least I'm no stranger to this situation but definitely playing with Chad, I know how he works. It's a head start."