Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: The goal mighty Johnson

Shaun Johnson has kicked only in open play. Photo / Getty Images
Shaun Johnson has kicked only in open play. Photo / Getty Images

Shaun Johnson has been earmarked as the Warriors goalkicker for next season, despite having never kicked a goal in the NRL.

As the club struggles to fill the large void in that area left by James Maloney, the young halfback will be given the massive responsibility in 2013.

The decision has been made on the recommendation of Warriors kicking consultant Daryl Halligan, who says Johnson's place-kicking potential is "as good as anyone in the NRL".

"At this stage, Shaun Johnson [will be the kicker] and that is on the advice of Daryl Halligan," says Warriors coach Matt Elliott. "I've worked with Daryl since 2002 and the work that he has done with my kickers has always been outstanding. He took Clinton Schifcofske [at Canberra] from the mid 60s to the high 80s [percentages] and took Michael Gordon [at Penrith] from the mid 60s to the 90s. So when Daryl says that [Shaun] strikes the ball as well as anyone, I tend to pay attention.

"Kevin [Locke] kicks a bit and Ben Henry strikes the ball well," says Elliott.

"They will all practice but when Daryl Halligan says that about that kid, you listen; He [Shaun] just needs to put the work in [and] we will have to make sure he puts the work in."

Elliott doesn't have many other options but it is still a big call. Though he had plenty of magic individual moments last season, Johnson rarely managed to run a game the way most top NRL halfbacks do. Even with the caveat that he was in a struggling team, the form of the 21-year-old faded badly in the second half of the campaign, culminating in his axing for the final match against the Raiders.

Johnson did a lot of kicking at Toyota Cup level but goalkicking in the NRL - where conversions and penalties can win matches - is different, with the pressure as much mental as physical.

In the NYC, the pressure was also slightly decreased by the emphatic nature of many of the Junior Warriors' wins in 2010 and 2011 and the fact they scored a lot of tries close to the posts. As an illustration, Locke enjoyed a 72.8 per cent success rate in the NYC but that dropped to 64.9 per cent during his brief kicking spell for the Warriors in 2009.

Maloney's kicking - like the rest of his game - dipped in 2012 but he leaves Mt Smart with a legacy of consistency in finding the posts; 222 successful shots (from 294 attempts) over three seasons for a strike rate of just under 76 per cent.

Johnson is already the playmaker, does most of the kicking in general play and is in charge of fifth tackle options. He also tops try assists (17 in 2012) as well as scoring 12 himself but Elliott denies that kicking will be an extra burden.

"He should want it," says Elliott. "It is a chance of being the highest points scorer in the club."

Elliott has utmost faith in Halligan, who will cross the Tasman "once or twice a month" to work with the Warriors kickers and especially Johnson.

"I'm going to treat him the same as I always have - just let him do his stuff with his players," says Elliott.

"I'm not sure how he does it but whatever he does, however he casts that little wand of his, Daryl likes to do his own thing and you generally stay out of the way.

"[If he is wrong about Johnson] it would be the first time in a decade that he has steered me down the wrong path," says Elliott. "I've never had a kicker that he has dealt with that hasn't improved exponentially."

- Herald on Sunday

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