Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Warriors hold on to emerging star

Shaun Johnson is here to stay. Photo / Getty Images
Shaun Johnson is here to stay. Photo / Getty Images

When the Warriors had to make a call they were always going to back local product Shaun Johnson over talented recruit James Maloney. So it has come to pass leading into the 2012 NRL season and beyond.

Johnson has confirmed he is staying at the Auckland-based club until the end of the 2014 season. It contrasts with yesterday's understandable decision by Maloney to return home to Australia and sign what is thought to be a deal with Roosters from 2013 onwards.

The pair combined this year to take the Warriors to their second grand final. Fans could experience a repeat next year but the nature of NRL contracting with its salary cap restrictions means the long-term retention of two such high-calibre players was always a tough ask. Wisely the Warriors bought insurance last weekend by signing Kiwi Thomas Leuluai to join the club from 2013. "I've really enjoyed playing alongside Jimmy and learning from him," Johnson said. "Hopefully, we'll have the chance to improve our combination again next year.

"While it is disappointing, Jimmy has decided to finish here at the end of 2012, it's great Thomas is coming back. His experience in tests, Super League and Challenge Cup finals will be a help."

Johnson's pedigree was well-established in an exceptional rookie campaign which saw the 21-year-old named the Warriors' young player of the year. His precocious composure on the field is backed by a natural confidence dealing with media and fans.

While his defence might need some work, the sight of Johnson effortlessly delving into his anaerobic fitness to score long-range tries is suitable compensation for most fans. His vapour trail flew in the faces of countless defenders this season.

"The Warriors have developed me and offered the chance to play in the NRL. I want to repay everyone for the support I've received," Johnson said. "I've been lucky enough to experience the NRL grand final in my first season and I want to give myself the chance to play a lot more first-grade games."

After an injury-disrupted start, Johnson debuted against the Sydney Roosters in June. He went on to play 16 first-grade games.

Warriors coach Brian McClennan said retaining Johnson was critical to the club's future: "I've really enjoyed watching Shaun's development. He has come right through the club's system and I'm excited about trying to help him reach his potential. What has really impressed me is his level head. So much expectation has been placed on him but he has his feet on the ground."

- Herald on Sunday

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