The Warriors signing of Blake Green from Manly has brought to a head a good part of what is wrong with the club.
To label Green a journeyman would be unfair – after all, he was talented enough to bag the Man of the Match Award in the 2013 Super League Final. But whilst he has played 205 first grade games, this has been spread across seven different clubs in the NRL and Super League. Green is also now 31 and heading to the end of his career, which makes the Warriors side of the three-year deal somewhat optimistic.
Blake Green has been signed for one purpose only – to guide the team around the park and take the pressure off Shaun Johnson. And that’s where there are issues. Johnson has now been playing NRL first grade for seven seasons, and 143 games (and 24 tests) later, he apparently still needs help in directing his team around the park.
There have been question marks before, hence the signing of Kieran Foran. And Jeff Robson. And even the re-signing of Thomas Leuluai. And the attempt to re-sign James Maloney (you get the drift). The recent World Cup debacle has reconfirmed that when the going gets tough, both the Kiwis and Warriors lack a strong force in the halves to run the ship.
There is little doubt that Shaun Johnson is a player of incredible talent, and he can turn a game at the drop of a hat. Yet it has been some time since this talent has been on display. When the pressure has gone on in recent times, there just seems to be nothing left. I would challenge anyone to recall the last time he kicked a 40/20 (and there have been precious few of them).
He’s good enough to turn that around. Very rarely does a player of his talent stay in a form slump for extended periods, so there is no need for panic. Of more concern is the fact that he appears to lack the footballing maturity to take control of a game.
That lack of maturity can occasionally spill into the mindset off the field too, with comments over the weekend mind-blowingly poor in their timing, as well as their intent.
To be fair, he at least gave the appearance of being absolutely gutted, unlike his test captain, who gave the impression he really couldn’t care less. This is confirmed by Johnson’s apology which appears to be completely genuine, and full of contrition. An unfortunate affair all round, which would seem to be more a reflection on the fiasco that is the Kiwis than Johnson himself.
It doesn’t help that Johnson is an easy target, and when the critics bag him, they go in boots and all with unnecessary and unfair venom. Anyone who genuinely believes that he’s not capable of playing good football isn’t worth hearing from, particularly on the back of a hopelessly underperforming Warriors side.
Not every player has the mindset to become a genuine leader, and perhaps Johnson simply isn’t that kind of guy. That’s fine – until you realise that the money he is receiving from the Warriors to be exactly that does not appear to be a great investment.
Shaun Johnson is still a young man, and at just 27 may only be halfway through his career. He will (hopefully) be the first to admit that there are certain areas of the game he needs to work on to be considered the genuine marquee player the Warriors are investing in.
Shaun Johnson is a more than capable footballer, and gets involved at the community coalface to build the Warriors identity. But if the club is going to be extracted from the gigantic hole they currently find themselves in he will need to play a pivotal role. This has now become even more obvious when you consider that this year’s big signing, Adam Blair, already appears to have one trotter in the retirement trough.
Here’s hoping that for the sake of the Kiwis, the Warriors and Shaun Johnson himself, he can take his leadership abilities to new levels.
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