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

Shaun Johnson: I want to be a Warrior for life

Shaun Johnson of the Warriors scores a try during the round 17 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Gold Coast Titans. Photo / Getty Images.
Shaun Johnson of the Warriors scores a try during the round 17 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Gold Coast Titans. Photo / Getty Images.

If Shaun Johnson has his way, he'll be at Mt Smart for the rest of his career.

Now in his sixth season of first grade, the halfback wants to emulate the feats of Simon Mannering and Manu Vatuvei and be a Warrior for life.

It doesn't mean that it will happen - he'll be a free agent at the end of next season and will be in demand across the NRL - but the signs are positive.

"There are things I want to achieve here," said Johnson. "I've made no secret of that so of course I would like to be a Warrior for life. It would be awesome to get to 200 or 250 games like Simon or Manu. It's a milestone, an achievement that not many players manage."

There is no timeline for Johnson's next deal, especially with the uncertainty around the salary cap from 2018 onwards. Clubs are reluctant to commit funds to their marquee players before they know what the cap limit will be (the salary cap is tipped to go much higher in 2018 off the back of the new broadcasting deal), as it affects their deals for the whole squad.

However, there will be some urgency to settle Johnson's future by the end of the season, before other clubs begin to circle. The Panthers tabled a massive offer before his last contract extension in 2014, and the Bulldogs were also believed to be in the hunt as well as interest from Europe.

"I'm off contract at the end of next year," said Johnson. "Who know how it works or how it all plays out but obviously I would like to stay here. I don't have a date or timeframe in mind. I just want to play footy and I am sure it will sort itself out."

Johnson and the club will also be aware that the next deal is likely to be his last big contract. He'll be 27 by the start of the 2018 season, coming into his peak as an NRL player.

But like fellow halves Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Mitchell Pearce and Daly Cherry-Evans in recent years, there is an expectation that Johnson needs to lead the Warriors to a premiership. Just as the Warriors have failed to reach their potential over the last few seasons, there is a feeling Johnson hasn't found the upper limits of his game, not yet achieving the consistency he needs.

He hasn't been helped by a revolving cast in the No 6 jersey. Johnson has had four different halves partner over the last five years, with James Maloney, Thomas Leuluai, Chad Townsend and Jeff Robson. In 2017 there will be another new pivot with Leuluai's departure to Wigan.

It's a two-fold scenario: not only does Johnson have to get the best out of his ability, but the club also have to give him the platform to reach his peak.

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