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

NRL: Shaun Johnson set to sign new Warriors deal

Shaun Johnson is set to sign a new deal with the Warriors. Photo / photosport.nz
Shaun Johnson is set to sign a new deal with the Warriors. Photo / photosport.nz

A new deal for Shaun Johnson at the Warriors is imminent.

The star halfback comes off contract at the end of this season, and negotiations on a new agreement have been prolonged.

Talks started before the end of last season but were put on the back burner during the Kiwis Four Nations campaign.

It's unusual for a marquee player not to be tied up before entering the final year of his current deal, though uncertainty around the amount of the next salary cap has been a factor.

It could increase to more than A$10 million ($10.7 million) next season (the 2017 cap is set at A$7 million) and may include a marquee player allowance, with the NRL and the Rugby League Players Association still negotiating terms under a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

But it seems that a new contract will be announced before the first game of the season, against the Knights at Mt Smart on March 5. It's unlikely to be as long as Johnson's previous deal (three years), with a two-year arrangement the most probable scenario.

That gives both parties some flexibility around their future plans, especially if Kieran Foran decides to stay longer than his current one-year deal and the club has to fit their test spine into the salary cap in 2018 and beyond. The new contract will also end the speculation about Johnson's future, which has simmered since halfway through last season.

While an exit couldn't be ruled out, Johnson was always more likely to remain at the club he first joined in 2009. He wants to bring success to his hometown and leaving Auckland would be difficult.

"I'd like to stay at the club," Johnson told the Herald on Sunday during the Four Nations campaign last year. "I've said that right along. But one thing I have learned since being in the NRL is that it's a business. I've seen players who have sat next to me in the locker room one day and they are gone the next.

"I don't want to rule out anything. I don't want to say, 'I'm going to commit to the Warriors for life' and I don't want to say, 'I'm gone, I don't want to be here'. It's all up in the air."

Johnson has seemed frustrated over the last few years, with the coaching carousel at the Warriors and a succession of different partners in the halves. But it goes both ways, with the club expecting much more out of Johnson this season after some frustration at his inconsistency over the last few years.

It feels like the cards have fallen in 2017. Johnson will have the best team around since his breakthrough year in 2011. The presence of a rejuvenated Foran is potentially massive, there are more weapons outside him in the back line and the forward pack should have a harder edge.

- NZ Herald

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