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Sharks playmaker Shaun Johnson.

Cronulla playmaker Shaun Johnson has the person behind his form surge listed in his phone simply as "Dan – Mental Coach".

Sharks mentor John Morris hired performance, leadership and mindset coach Dan Haesler this season to help establish culture and values within a playing group that had lost more than 2000 games experience since 2018.

That has included working with Johnson and other players.

It is an aspect of his game that Johnson had never considered until a conversation with Morris at the end of last season. He credits Haesler with helping him to shut out external noise about his own performances and focus on the team.

"I have been speaking to him regularly," Johnson said. "It is nothing crazy, nothing too serious. He doesn't preach on me. He just gets me thinking about things and I think that mental side is just so important.

"He was introduced to me through Bomber [Morris] and the Sharks. I've got him under my contacts as 'Dan – Mental Coach'. That's what he does."

Truth-telling at forefront of Indigenous Round

Haesler, who is the director of Sydney-based Cut Through Coaching, was engaged by the NRL last year to deliver a workshop for each club, and Morris later invited him to attended Cronulla's pre-season camp in Kiama.

Johnson is a player whose performances attract either brickbats or bouquets and he admits to riding the highs and lows of the public scrutiny during his 10 seasons in the NRL and at international level for the Kiwis.

One moment he would be enjoying the plaudits, as he was after last October's World Cup 9s tournament, and the next he would be down after a disappointing performance, like the Trans-Tasman Test against Australia in Wollongong a week later.

He doesn't preach on me. He just gets me thinking about things

Shaun Johnson on working with a mental coach

During his eight years at the Warriors, Johnson played under six different coaches and he would usually be painted as a hero if they won or wear the blame if they lost.

A similar pattern had been emerging at Cronulla, with commentators and fans focusing heavily on Johnson. Premiership-winning halfback Cooper Cronk questioned his value after a match against North Queensland in June.  

However, the 30-year-old is now trying to maintain a balance and he credits the work he has been doing with Haesler for helping him to find greater consistency in his game.

"If you ask other players, they are all probably doing a bit of mental work as well," Johnson said.

"It has to be a prominent thing in our sport because of the exposure and what is said these days so if you don’t have it you could be in trouble.

"I have been working hard on my game. In terms of my body, I haven't been feeling this fit and strong in my career but that is only one part of it. The mental stuff is just as important."

Despite a heavy injury toll, the Sharks have now moved into the top eight ahead of Friday night's match against Brisbane and Johnson has been responsible for more tries, forced more goal-line dropouts and taken on opposition defences more times than any other player this season.

His 16 try assists are five more than equal second-placed pair Clint Gutherson and Luke Keary.

"One thing in the game that I have done well the past couple of weeks is that I haven’t really taken too much on board with what is said externally," Johnson said.

"I have just focused on what the coaches need me to do and what my team-mates need me to do. I have just been paying a lot of attention in our review and trying to find ways to be better."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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