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

League: Johnson backs 'unusual' move to retain McFadden

Shaun Johnson is pleased Andrew McFadden has been retained. Photo / Getty Images
Shaun Johnson is pleased Andrew McFadden has been retained. Photo / Getty Images

Shaun Johnson concedes the Warriors coaching arrangements for next year are "unusual, a bit different" but is confident the club can make it work.

The Warriors halfback was speaking for the first time since the unveiling of the new structure, which sees Stephen Kearney as head coach, replacing Andrew McFadden, who is staying on as assistant.

Johnson admitted there was some sympathy for McFadden and the players had to take some responsibility for the situation.

"It's another change and there have been a few," he said. "But as players, we understand that we didn't do too much to prevent that with the way we played. We left Cappy [McFadden] in a vulnerable position and we are really stoked that he is able to stay on board in a role."

It's rare for head coaches to be retained after a new man has been appointed - Rick Stone, who stayed on at the Knights after Wayne Bennett took his job, is one of the few examples in the NRL, while there have been some football managers who have been moved 'upstairs' - but Johnson has faith in the decision.

"It is going to take a little bit of getting used to but I am sure we can make that adjustment and Mooks [Kearney] will do a terrific job," said Johnson. "[The arrangement] is unusual, a bit different, but they have obviously sorted that out themselves. They had a conversation before they made those decisions and, as players, we can only get behind them."

Johnson was unveiled on Wednesday as the face of the 2017 Auckland NRL Nines, alongside Cowboys maestro Johnathan Thurston, who will take part for the first time.

Johnson has starred in the last three tournaments, although his inclusion (and that of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck) was questioned this year after the Warriors' flat start to the NRL season. Johnson and Tuivasa-Sheck missed the club's penultimate trial against the Titans in Whangarei, meaning the Warriors' new spine had only one match together (against the Dragons in Nelson) before round one of the season proper.

"It's just one of those things," said Johnson. "It's hard when you only get to play one game leading into a season but you have to trust that you have done enough work in training to put you in good stead for that first match. There is no better way to gel combinations than in a game, everyone knows that, but you don't win a competition in March. It's about progressing throughout the year."

Johnson, who will discuss his pre-season schedule with Kearney in January, doesn't feel competing in the Nines will compromise his NRL preparations.

"I don't think it is a gamble," he said. "You choose what you want to play in and what you think is going to be best for you. I don't think this is going to be any different."

Johnson goes into the Kiwis' camp today, ahead of next week's test against the Kangaroos in Perth.

"Both squads look really strong. There are a lot of young players and new faces, so it is pretty exciting. It should be one hell of a game."

- NZ Herald

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