It would take a miracle for the Warriors to play Finals football this year after last night's loss to the Panthers.

It was a dark night for the club as they bid farewell to favourite son Manu Vatuvei, saw their finals chances all but evaporate and watched their million-dollar man Shaun Johnson limp off with a possible season-ending injury. Basically their worst nightmare played out on an already emotional night.

They will find out over the weekend the extent of halfback Johnson's knee injury and whether a suspected ACL rupture will curtail his season and potentially impact on the start of next year. It is also a massive concern after the club shelled out big money to sign Johnson to an extension midway through the season. Now he is facing the prospect of a second serious leg injury of his career.

It continues the incredible run of key injuries the Warriors have faced in recent seasons. Yes, all clubs get dealt injury worries but the Warriors have barely had their top spine together over the past three seasons.


The silver lining to the rather dark situation is that youngster Ata Hingano will get a string of games to further establish himself in first grade before a fulltime tilt in the halves next season. While Johnson and Kieran Foran were healthy he would essentially be getting bench time so long as the Warriors remained in Finals contention but now he is thrust into the big time a little earlier than thought.

The problem for Warriors boss Jim Doyle is whether this injury forces him to re-think his recruitment plans. If Johnson is to have a full six-month lay-off it would take him well into the pre-season. He would be returning to football in January and who knows how long it would take to get back to full match fitness or back to mid-season form beyond that? The risk of re-injuring the knee is heightened too and the club would not want to put undue risk on their biggest investment.

With Foran returning to Sydney at season's end and Hingano becoming the club's preferred five-eighth there leaves a lot of responsibility on Johnson's shoulders.

The Warriors probably need another half on their books - only Johnson, Hingano and Mason Lino are under contract for 2018 - but a serious injury to the Kiwi test half might mean that the club spends some of their remaining cap space on a fourth half - something they hadn't originally planned to do. They were committed to Johnson and Hingano as their starters and would have added another depth signing along with Lino as cover - that player likely to be a youngster. Now that depth signing could potentially be a more experienced NRL half depending on what cap space they have available after sorting out their front row stocks, which remains the priority.

The other major consideration is the impact Johnson's injury will have on the Kiwis at the World Cup. He would have been a first-choice selection and the Kiwis chances of winning decline in a big way if he is to miss the tournament. They will already be without the game's leading prop in Jesse Bromwich as well as the experienced Kevin Proctor so losing Johnson really hurts.

There will be a number of people waiting nervously, hoping for a miracle in the results of Johnson's scans.