Warriors surprised by Johnson's demands

Former Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson. Photo: Getty Images
Former Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson. Photo: Getty Images
Warriors football boss Brian Smith says the club were surprised by Shaun Johnson's demand for a contract release but believes the Kiwi international's exit has provided the Auckland-based NRL club with a silver lining.

Speaking on the Radio Sport Breakfast Wednesday morning, Smith was grilled over the Warriors handling of events that led to Johnson wanting out of the final year of his million dollar contract last week, before the star playmaker signed with Cronulla on a three-year deal.

Smith attempted to shed more light on the saga that has divided NRL fans and critics on both sides of the Tasman, and reiterated the club's stance that Johnson ignored the opportunity to discuss options for the future, after the Warriors initially declined to make an offer to extend his contract and informed his agent that he was free to test his value on the open market.

When asked what the Warriors believed Johnson's true worth was, Smith explained the club had hoped the 162 game veteran would have a ball-park figure of his own value in mind, when he and his manager Peter Brown, met with CEO Cameron George, coach Stephen Kearney, and recruitment manager Peter O'Sullivan, at Mt Smart Stadium on the morning of November 27.

"We didn't expect [Johnson's demand for a release] for a response to what we were hoping was going to be a discussion about the future with him," Smith told Radio Sport.

"We didn't really establish [Johnson's worth] because Shaun was in a position where he could have done that."

The Herald reported last month that Johnson's inconsistent performances had raised doubts over whether he was providing the Warriors with value for money, after he re-signed with the club last season on a two-year seven-figure contract.

Smith hinted the mercurial No 7's hot-and-cold form was behind the club's hesitancy to table a new offer.

Sources from both camps have confirmed during last week's fateful meeting, Johnson declared he wanted to leave the Warriors immediately, rather than attempt to find middle ground or discuss parameters for an acceptable pay-cut.

"From our point of view, the sort of money that he was on, I think it's fair to say that it's going to attract some questions about performance," he said.

"So we didn't establish [what he was worth]. I can't say to you whether it was a million, or half a million. The process, Shaun took control of what he wanted to do and we didn't get that far."

Smith refused to detail the qualities in Johnson's play or training ethic that the club was dissatisfied with, saying it would be "churlish" for him to do so.

However, he intimated the Warriors could have been persuaded to show more enthusiasm towards re-signing Johnson, if he had been open to discussing areas in which he could grow, and demonstrated a willingness and determination to work on improving his game.

"I think it's fair to say that there is no such thing as the complete player. Everybody is the game is always looking for improvement.

"Those are the sorts of things that we wanted to talk to Shaun about."

When pressed on whether the club genuinely wanted to retain Johnson long-term, Smith repeated the point that Johnson's camp too, were not forthcoming with a contract amount that would be palatable.

"The answer to that question is 'how much money do you want?' The same as every other player in our club. We never ever established that," said Smith.

"At the point in time where Shaun asked for a release, we had no idea what money his manager might want for the following season in 2020 and beyond. It was never, ever spoken about."

Smith admitted the obvious, that the former Golden Boot winner's sudden departure had left the Warriors short of experienced halves, but stressed the club would not be rushing to buy a big name replacement.

Johnson's exit has given the Warriors an additional million dollars to spend and if the right player at the right price was to become available, they may move to recruit a new half.

"Not yet we're not [a better side], no. There's some work to be done," he said.

"There's some decisions to be made in the next little while, but we're not really in any great hurry to do anything.

"If something jumped up that was too good to be missed, we're ready for that. Obviously we've got the [salary] cap space now."

Meanwhile, Kearney is satisfied with the progress made by the club's emerging halves - Chanel Harris-Tavita, Hayze Perham, Paul Turner and Penrith recruit Adam Keighran – over the first month of pre-season training.

Whether a future first grade halves combination is born out of those stocks in time for next season, or the club spends money on attracting new talent, Smith is confident the Warriors are well placed to find stability and achieve success going forward.

"It is a big thing that's happened, but it's also provided us with a fantastic opportunity with a large chunk of money to be able to put ourselves in a position where we can be very stable over the next three to five years.

"And in that period of time, we certainly want to get ourselves into a position where we can win the competition.

"We need to make great decisions in the next little while about how we go about what we do. And we're not going to be rushed."

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