Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Michael Burgess: Andrew Johns misses the point on Shaun Johnson

Former rugby league great Andrew Johns has launched a scathing attack on Shaun Johnson and the Kiwis after their draw with Scotland in the Four Nations. Photo / Photosport
Former rugby league great Andrew Johns has launched a scathing attack on Shaun Johnson and the Kiwis after their draw with Scotland in the Four Nations. Photo / Photosport

Andrew Johns's sharp criticism of Shaun Johnson missed the point.

The former Kangaroos great shone some light on the issues but gave no real insight on a solution

I was reminded of the late David Lange, who once said of a fellow politician; "if he was a mechanic, he would be great at diagnosing the problem but don't let him near the car".

That's the problem with Johns' comments.

He made some reasonable points about the current limitations to Johnson's play - but what exactly are the answers?

Johnson is not the world's best organiser, and pales in comparison to the likes of Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston, Daly Cherry-Evans and Mitchell Pearce in that area.

Probably, if you asked him privately, he would admit he doesn't particularly enjoy it, and would prefer to have a freer role, as Johns' advocated.

But Johnson is the Kiwis' best organiser, especially with Thomas Leuluai out of the picture. There is no one else. It's the same at the Warriors. It's nice to say that Johnson should play No6 but who is going to play halfback? Jeff Robson was tried there earlier this year for the Warriors and he was a bust.

Johnson is the only option for New Zealand as the main playmaker. Unlike the Kangaroos, the Kiwis don't have an endless supply of options in the halves. For whatever reason it's always been that way, and maybe always will. That's why Nigel Vagana wore the No6 jersey in 2005, and Tohu Harris filled in there in 2014.

Johnson is the best kicker, passer and distributor the Kiwis have got. Sure, he has been erratic in this tournament - especially with his kicking game - but he is also one of New Zealand's best hopes.

Ask yourself this question; how would you feel about the Kiwis' chances at Anfield if Johnson got injured this week?

At the moment Johnson is lacking confidence. It's probably a byproduct of his ankle injury, and two recent miserable seasons at Mt Smart.

But such periods happen to every player. The difference is Johnson lacks generals around him. If Cronk has a quiet game or is a bit off, he knows Cameron Smith and Thurston can run the show. Darius Boyd is also a playmaker, and Michael Morgan can come off the bench to organize if necessary.

In contrast, Johnson knows he has to organize, create and destroy. Find the gaps and make the gaps. Run the team and run the ball. A player like Cronk can focus on directing the Kangaroos around the park because he knows he doesn't have to make breaks or score tries.

All of the above doesn't excuse Johnson's inconsistency. Perhaps the greatest frustration with the 26-year-old is his decision making.

In Coventry and Workington, the wrong options were taken on too many occasions. Kicking out on the full, kicking the ball dead or not kicking at all as someone else received the ball on the last tackle.

The Kiwis aren't good enough to play so randomly; they lack the weapons outside Johnson so they need to build pressure as a team. It becomes a self- fulfilling prophecy; if Johnson's kicking game is on song the forwards can build pressure, which will create more time and space for the halfback.

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- NZ Herald

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