Hugh McGahan is a former Kiwis player and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Hugh McGahan: Sublime Johnson NZ's best option

Shaun Johnson. Photo /  Brett Phibbs
Shaun Johnson. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The accolades bestowed on Shaun Johnson after his performance against the Tigers on Friday night are totally justified.

His display not only sent the Tigers into Struggle Street trying to make the playoffs but he claimed the position of New Zealand's best halfback from his hero, Benji Marshall. It is significant that it happened days after Marshall's decision to leave league for a probable move to rugby.

How ironic that this fixture was the stage for Johnson to snatch the title from Marshall's hands. The composed display by Johnson emphasised his development as a genuine playmaker and not just a player who creates for himself.

Friday night's performance by Johnson did not have the elements of sidestep, accelerate and goose step but a spirit of draw, pass and support. This was seen in his first try after a deft pass to send Suaia Matagi away and his support for the return pass to score.

Then, similarly, there was a draw-pass to Sam Rapira who returned the same, then he assessed and kicked for Simon Mannering and the team's final try.

These are elements a playmaker must possess for his team to prosper and Johnson is now starting to understand the full role.

It appeared it was going to be a fairytale final game for Marshall at Leichardt Oval with the initial pass to centre Chris Lawrence, who offloaded to Tim Simona to score. Marshall was thriving off the emotional support from the Tigers fans and lifted for the occasion but unfortunately for him, it didn't last.

The Warriors soon woke from their slumber after the bye weekend and rumbled through their plays with more vitality, allowing Johnson to probe.

I have criticised Marshall's performances in recent seasons, frustrated by his inconsistency. The signs have been around that long. I think Marshall's announcement to seek a release is the culmination of a frustrating period in his career.

Like most sports fans, I admire gifted athletes - Marshall fits into this category.

However, a league playmaker must possess more than freakish talent, and he must produce it more often. This is where Johnson has started to understand his role much earlier than Marshall did. This has been developed under three recent coaches - Ivan Cleary, Brian McClennan and Matt Elliott - and there is more to learn.

Now it's a matter of producing consistent performances that will determine his future and his club's.

- Herald on Sunday

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Hugh McGahan is a former Kiwis player and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Hugh Joseph McGahan MBE was a renowned rugby league player and coach who represented New Zealand in no less than 53 test matches, captaining 17 of them. Beginning his career in Auckland he later moved to Sydney where he played over 100 matches for the Roosters, finishing his career in 1991 as captain-coach of the eastern Sydney outfit. Accolades were never far away from the impressive Kiwi lock and in 1987 McGahan jointly won the prestigious Golden Boot Award, the first row forward at the time to win the award. Hugh McGahan’s international career was similarly impressive coming to the fore in 1982 after scoring a remarkable six tries for the Kiwis against Papua New Guinea in Auckland. Hugh Mcgahan ended his career with distinguished honours as he was awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to rugby and later inducted into the NZRL Legends of League. He continues to write sports columns for the New Zealand Herald.

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