Dale Budge: Dropping Johnson would be huge mistake

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

The last thing the Warriors should contemplate is dropping Shaun Johnson.

The 2014 Golden Boot winner has been down on form this season and certainly isn't helping his side win football games which has led to a chorus of fans and commentators calling for him to be axed.

We live in an age of appeasement sadly and some people seem to think someone has to be made publicly accountable for the team's failure to live up to expectation.

The Warriors haven't sacked the coach yet so enter calls for the Warriors most high profile player to be the one to carry the can.

To me you drop a player for one of two reasons. One there is another player playing well enough to warrant selection and that player would have to be more likely to help the team win games than the out of form player. The second reason you would drop someone is to send a message to that player and to the team in general.

Let's start with the first reason. Is there someone in the Warriors organization that is deserving of a call-up to first grade and also more likely to help the Warriors win games than Johnson?

Simply put - no. Jeff Robson could come into the mix but he played worse than Johnson through the first few weeks of the season. He also doesn't have a fraction of the upside Johnson has when it all clicks into place.

The Warriors could move Tui Lolohea to the halves and push David Fusitua to fullback, where he did an admirable job filling in against the Dragons.

Lolohea, while talented, does not have the all-round skills to guide a team around the park that Johnson does. His kicking game is inferior, his game management inferior and his communication skills inferior.

Lolohea is a terrific young talent and will play solid footy in whatever position he is selected but asking him to run the side's offense is ridiculous at this point in his career.

In an ideal world he will move to the halves when the Warriors hit a purple patch and there isn't such pressure on him to hit the ground running. Fusitua played well at the back against St George but in all honesty they threw very little at him. He is not an experienced first grade footballer and has very little experience at fullback. Running him there for a game, filling in against a weak side is one thing; making him the primary option against the best teams is another thing altogether. He hadn't even cemented a first grade spot until a month ago.

The Warriors season fell over last year the moment Johnson went down. I said it at the time and I will repeat it - no player is more valuable to his team in this competition than Johnson is to the Warriors.

That doesn't mean he is the best player in the competition - it means he is the one player that is relied upon more than any for his team's success and that might well be part of the problem with his form at present.

So the second theory of dumping a player - does Johnson need to be dropped to send a message? Again - no. What message would it be? His form is a little off but I hardly think you can criticize the guy for not trying. You send a message to a guy who isn't working hard enough or isn't living up to behavioral standards etc. Dumping Johnson now will not help him get his game in order any quicker.

A guy like Johnson does not find his feet in reserve grade. He needs the challenge of first grade. He needs the good defense, the line speed and the pressure to get his game in order. Sending him down a grade where he will destroy opponents will do nothing for him in my opinion. He needs to be doing those things at first grade level.

There are a number of contributing factors to why Johnson isn't at his best at the moment. He is coming back from a serious injury and one that takes a mental toll as well. He is physically fit again but mentally there will still be the worry about getting hit again in a similar manner. I've seen glimpses of improvement here. He is looking to run a little more - heck he ran once against the Panthers when he probably shouldn't have!

The main reason Johnson isn't lighting things up at the moment is simply the way his side is playing across the board. At the beginning of the season he was put in a brand new spine for the club - it takes a little time for a new spine to gel. Issac Luke didn't play well and got dropped and then benched.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck went down injured. The Warriors have not been gaining parity, let alone dominating, against opposition forward packs. The ball he is getting is slow, the defensive line set and coming at him and he simply hasn't had enough ball either. The Warriors are not winning the basics - territory, possession and the all-important ruck speed. When they get parity there Johnson will start to come into his own.

He has looked dangerous on the few occasions the Warriors have got some ascendancy. Only Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan and Ben Hunt have more try assists this season than Johnson and they play for one of the best two teams in the competition. Johnson's sixth in the league in line-break assists, fourth in kicks in play, fifth in kicking metres etc. Statistically he is playing better than Cooper Cronk, Daly Cherry-Evans, Corey Norman and Adam Reynolds.

The final thing that is relevant here is people's perception about Johnson. He has the potential and has already reached elite standards but he is not and never will be Thurston. He is not a future immortal. For some reason people think the answer to the Warriors winning football games is getting the ball and giving it to Johnson and expecting him to cut the opposition to pieces. No, that only happens on the back of every other part of the team doing its job as well. That hasn't been happening at the Warriors for some time.

In Johnson the Warriors have a player capable of taking a decent footy side and making them a really good one. He can be the cream on top. But he is not the kind of player that can make an average side really good.

Above all else the Warriors have invested in Johnson. Dropping him, pissing him off or trying to appease critics will not make them win quicker or help him hit form any faster.

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