Michael Burgess

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

League: Injury opens up options

Shaun Johnson's injury presents an opportunity for someone to step up. Photo / Getty Images
Shaun Johnson's injury presents an opportunity for someone to step up. Photo / Getty Images

It would be stretching things to say that Shaun Johnson's hyper-extended elbow, which could see him miss the first three NRL rounds (Eels, Roosters and Sharks), is a blessing in disguise but there could yet be a positive outcome.

Too often last year the Warriors appeared to rely on the number seven for most of their attacking inspiration. There was a sense of 'give it to Shaun - he can do some magic'. It did not work for him - Johnson struggled to match the inspirational form he had shown in 2011 - nor the team.

Johnson's runs across the field would often end in blind alleys and became easier to shut down as the season wore on. He was still the key man; 17 try assists and 13 linebreaks were testament to that but there was a sense that much more was possible.

Now, with Pita Godinet (presumably) slotting in besides Thomas Leuluai, the team will need to play more of a structured attacking game, unable to count on Johnson and his dancing feet. The early signs against Brisbane were promising, especially in the way he set up Todd Lowrie for the match-sealing try.

Opposition teams will analyse Godinet and he is in for a tough initiation but at least he will have a chance to prove himself.

It should also create genuine competition for jumpers six and seven. Like in the golden years of 2002-03, when Stacey Jones, Lance Hohaia, Motu Tony and PJ Marsh were contenders in the halves. Or in 2011, when Brett Seymour and Johnson shared time at halfback. Once Johnson established himself, there was no way back for Seymour but the presence of the former Cronulla player helped to push the young gun to his best form.

In the middle of their eight-match losing streak last year Brian McClennan wanted to make changes to the scrumbase recipe but dumping his halves seemed too much of a stretch. Who would replace them? It was left to caretaker coach Tony Iro to bench both Johnson and Maloney but by then the situation was irreparable.

If Godinet becomes a genuine NRL first grade option then Matt Elliott has options and the onus will be on Johnson and Leuluai to perform, week in, week out.

Former Penrith under-20s star Harry Siejka, who has four NRL appearances to his name (all in 2011) is another contender to step into Johnson's boots and has the advantage of being a goalkicker.


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- Herald on Sunday

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