Sharks circle for Johnson

Shaun Johnson is already being lured to the Sharks by a club great. Photo: Getty Images
Shaun Johnson is already being lured to the Sharks by a club great. Photo: Getty Images
It hasn't taken long for the Sharks to circle.

Jilted Warriors star Shaun Johnson yesterday requested a release from the final year of his contract with the Auckland NRL club, as revealed by the New Zealand Herald.

A Cronulla great has already made a plea for the the 28-year-old halfback to join the Sydney club.

Johnson has a year remaining on his current million dollars per season deal but wants out immediately after the Warriors made it clear they are in no rush to re-sign him beyond 2019.

As first reported by the Herald last month, the Warriors informed Johnson and his manager that they would not be moving quickly to offer him a contract extension and that he was free to test his value on the open market.

The Cronulla Sharks have salary cap space with Valentine Holmes leaving rugby league to try and break into the NFL and 2016 NRL title winner Luke Lewis wants the side to make a move for Johnson.

"It would be a new lease of life for Shaun," Lewis told the Daily Telegraph.

"It would take him out of his comfort zone and it would make him want to prove himself to all his new teammates that you've got what it takes."

Lewis, an 18-season NRL veteran who retired at the end of last year winning titles with Penrith and the Sharks, said Johnson had just what the Sharks wanted to replace Kangaroos international Holmes.

"He would bring the X-factor that we're [Cronulla], looking for now that we've lost Val.

"He basically ticks all the boxes for us. He's a leader, he's played a lot of test football and he's played at every level," Lewis told the Daily Telegraph.

"Not only that — but it would open a lot of doors for Shaun here in Australia.

"He's always been a New Zealand boy, but his networking ability here in Sydney would go to another level.''

In an explosive development in a fast-moving story, a disgruntled Johnson met with Warriors boss Cameron George and coach Stephen Kearney yesterday morning and requested an immediate release while he explores options with several rival clubs in Australia.

It's unclear where the former Golden Boot winner might land if he is eventually released but at least four clubs are willing to bid for his services.

However, Johnson's request has been denied and the Warriors are so far holding firm in insisting that he see out the remainder of his contract.

But yesterday's developments came just hours before the club hosted a fan forum at Mt Smart Stadium last night, where it's understood Warriors members were informed a decision on Johnson's future was expected to be made in the next 24 hours.

The Penrose-based franchise are believed to have plans in the pipeline to replace the 162-game veteran long-term but but currently it appears they still want him on deck at Mt Smart next season.

The Warriors have not ruled out re-signing the mercurial playmaker for 2020 and beyond but concerns over his consistency mean they are unwilling to throw him the amount of cash reserved only for the game's elite players.

Johnson, the club's marquee player and poster boy since his debut back in 2011, has not taken the news well.

Up until now, he has been the club's priority every time his contract has come up for renewal and Johnson now finds himself in unfamiliar territory.

Johnson, who has scored 63 tries for the Warriors and is the club's top point-scorer, last year became the highest paid player in the club's history when he re-signed on a two-year extension worth seven-figures.

However, much like the club is now doing, he took his time before recommitting and had discussions with rival clubs including the Sydney Roosters.

With a cloud of uncertainty hanging over his future at the Warriors, Johnson is now ready to up and leave rather than stick around and prove his worth and value to the club.

Calls to the Warriors have so far gone unanswered but the ball is now in their court regarding Johnson's future.

The potential break-up could prove to be the best for both parties.

Johnson has struggled under the weight of expectation as the face of the game in New Zealand and may well flourish with a change of scenery, while the club could find themselves with a million dollars to spend on new talent in the coming weeks.

If the Warriors do decide to grant him his wish and release Johnson it will send a clear message to fans that the club is not just doing what it's always done in automatically re-signing him.

The news comes after Johnson broke his silence on the matter via an emotional social media post yesterday expressing his frustration at the situation and explaining the impasse meant he was shopping himself around.

"I thought it's best I clear a couple things up regarding my situation at this stage with the Warriors," said Johnson.

"Firstly, there is no contract for me to sign past 2019.

"Secondly if you saw the article that came out a few weeks back [...] they said they are in no rush to re-sign me. Since then they have told me again at this stage they [won't] be offering me anything.

"That means I get to spread my wings and see what's out there so right now that's what I'm doing!".

- with David Skipwith

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