Set of Six: Olympic dreamer should work on his timing

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Shaun Johnson. Photo / Getty Images
Shaun Johnson. Photo / Getty Images

Justis Kamu looks at the standout issues in the NRL from the past week including Shaun Johnson's Olympic dream.

1. Sevens talk can wait till 2014
Shaun Johnson's disclosure of a possible move to union sevens for the 2016 Olympic Games couldn't have come at a worse time for the club.

Fans would be right to blast his arrogance to blurt he has an eye in another sport when the Warriors' present circumstances are dreadful.

The side is in a seven match slump, morale is at a low-point and their coach has just been given the boot. Having their best young player, a possible future captain, revealing other sporting opportunities during the course of the footy season is an unwanted distraction.

While it maybe is exciting for the union lovers of this country to talk up the prospects a possible code switch.

The extremely talented halfback already has significant challenges at the Warriors that require the utmost respect and focus. They have a championship title to win with Johnson vital to the direction the club heads in for the next two years. That is his first priority.

Any other sporting interests should be left in the back of his mind to contemplate until the appropriate time to reveal. The only notable achievement of his professional career to date is earning Kiwis selection in this year's ANZAC test. That is hardly a rugby league resume to rave on about.

This season his option taking and kicking game has improved, but defensively he remains an easy target for opposition forwards. On the weekend against the Dragons, Chase Stanley's determined run to the tryline saw him brush past a flimsy hold (not a tackle) from Johnson.

Improving on this glaring weakness would make him a better player in both codes.

2. Playoffs spots still up for grabs
How quickly has the 2012 NRL season come and gone? 25 rounds have been played with the final set of games to be completed this weekend. The key matches in round 26 of the regular season are - Warriors v Raiders, Storm v Tigers, and the Broncos v Panthers.

The top six positions are pretty close to being decided with the Bulldogs to seal the minor premiership unless the 13th placed Roosters can cause an upset. The Storm v Tigers match shapes to be an interesting match with the Tigers needing a big victory to sneak into the playoffs.

Craig Bellamy is considering resting his top line players so they can be in good shape for the finals. That would be a blow to the Raiders who have a better for/against record than the Tigers, but have to defeat a Warriors side that's desperate for a win.

In Brisbane, the Broncos take on the Panthers in a must-win match for the home side.
Barley clinging on to their top eight spot, a failure to win Petero Civinoceva's final home game would see the Tigers and Raiders claim the last two spots on the NRL ladder.

My picks for the weekend: Broncos and Tigers to go through with the Warriors defeating the Raiders to finally claim a much needed win.

3. Which Warrior will be first to one million?
The announcement of the record A$1.025 billion broadcasting rights deal last week has strengthened the game's future with the massive cash injection set to fund all levels of the game.

There will be a few NRL millionaires running around in a couple of seasons with Greg Inglis, Jonathan Thurston and Billy Slater likely to sign A$1million per season salaries.

Which of the current Warriors would be the first to sign a deal of that magnitude? Shaun Johnson, Kevin Locke, Konrad Hurrell, Sam Rapira are all contenders for a massive payday.

However it would be hard to ignore a claim by prop Ben Matulino for an income of seven figures after his highly consistent performances over the past two seasons. The 23 year old Wellingtonian is now firmly established as one of the premier forwards in the competition, some would even have him ahead of fellow prop Rapira.

His big shoulder charges have also made him a fan favourite with the Mt Smart faithful. Signed till the end of 2015, his teammates Johnson (2014), Locke and Rapira ( both 2013) will have earlier opportunities to test their bargaining power with the club.

While props are only modestly compensated compared to high flying backs, Matulino has his best years ahead of him to improve on the finer details of playing in the front row.
Capitalising on the potential of a forward that can make a long-lasting impact is an investment that all NRL clubs could do with.

4. Should Izzy return to the NRL?
AFL signing Israel Folau is copping plenty of criticism for his lacklustre performances in his debut season. The GWS Giants' forward has been labelled a A$6million flop.

While his code switch has been a marketing success, on the field he has struggled to adapt to his new sport. In a few games recently against the Gold Coast Suns and Melbourne Demons, Folau only touched the ball four times in the entire 80 minutes.

Adding further insult to his ability, the former Australian test footballer is ranked the second worst player in the league based on Champion Data stats. Listing players who have played 10 games or more in 2012, Folau is ranked 415th out of 416 players, with Addam Maric (who?) beating him to the last spot. For someone who was the best rugby league player of his generation, it's a shame to see his athletic talents being underutilised and ridiculed.

His contract with the Giants runs out in 2014 but there have been reports that he is unhappy in his current job, which has alerted the Eels and Bulldogs who are keen on his services.

At the age of 23, leaving the AFL would be the best sporting move for his career as he still has the time and skills to carve out a lasting legacy in the NRL.

Having secured Sonny Bill William's homecoming for next season, Folau could be the NRL's next prodigal son.

5. Your comments

@Teke Hunter
Why couldn't they have made a million dollar offer to Cleary? He's was our most successful coach and we let him go? Dumb. I'd pay him a million dollars just to get him back. I'm happy that Kearney's coming back home,just dissapointed for Bluey. I do wish him all the best though. Warriors revival 2013!
- In short, Cleary isn't not worth one million dollars a year. That type of contract is reserved for the elite coaches in the NRL - Wayne Bennett, Tim Sheens, Craig Bellamy and probably Des Hasler would sneak in there as well. All four men have won NRL titles, which Cleary hasn't so doesn't fit into that category. Arguably the best young the coach in the NRL, being handpicked by Phil Gould for the Penrith role indicates how highly regarded the former Warriors coach is.

@Sonny L
So you think Bellamy would have created miracles with Tupou/ hikoifo/ Hurrel/ Lilyman etc and they would over the space of weeks become inglis like? come on man, Mclennan is the undeserved scapegoat for problems out of his control, for the most part. The man has left honorably, don't throw more knives in his back before he is out of range.
- Yes, he left honourably, there was no knife throwing on this end. Lillyman is one of the best players in the Warriors lineup and is a Queensland prop. Naming him alongside the likes of Tupou, Ikahihifo and Hurrell is a slap in the face to the former Cowboy.
Look at the Storm side, every youngster that comes through that system have the fear of God struck into them by Bellamy. He can get the best of his young players consistently - Jesse Bromwich, M Duffie, R Hinchcliffe, and J O'Neill to name a few.

@wavering fan
Why is everyone only on about bluey, surely the players have to have the same balls that bluey had to fall on the sword as they should given that in the last 6 weeks the players have dropped high balls costing points, throwing silly passes costing points and dropping the ball inside there 20 metre line costing points. Im sure that if they cant control the basic fundamentals of the game they need to be dropped to the vulcans, only a great coach would do that
- Agreed, players should be held accountable for their performances. If they play well consistently, keep them. If they play poorly over a number of matches they should be dropped to the NSW Cup. Only a few Warriors have performed with any distinction this season, as for the rest of the side they know very well that they have been below their best. A number of regulars should've been demoted to the Vulcans on the back of what Warriors fans have had to watch in the past two months.

6. Team of the Week - round 25
1. Fullback - Jason Nightingale (Dragons)
2. Wing - Nathan Merrit (Rabbitohs)
3. Centre - Matt Cooper (Dragons)
4. Centre - Brad Tighe (Panthers)
5. Wing - David Tupou (Roosters)
6. Five-eighth - Josh McCrone (Raiders)
7. Halfback - Mitchell Pearce (Roosters)
8. Prop - Jared Ware-Hargreaves (Roosters)
9. Hooker - Cameron Smith (Storm)
10. Prop - Dane Tilse (Raiders)
11. Secondrow - Tony Williams (Sea Eagles)
12. Secondrow - Ben Creagh (Dragons)
13. Lock - Michael Crocker (Rabbitohs)
Coach: David Furner (Raiders)

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