COMMENT:

Something important has been lost in the Shaun Johnson saga.

In the middle of all the unfortunate recriminations, Johnson's contribution to the Warriors - and league in this country - has been almost forgotten.

Please, let's not let the circumstances of his departure tarnish his legacy.

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Johnson is one of the most important players in the club's history. In terms of home-grown talent, he's in the top 10 players, and probably always will be.

If you want to sum up Johnson's legacy, ask yourself a simple question; where would the Warriors have been over the past decade if Johnson hadn't come along?

Carlos Tuimavave and Isaac John were highly touted for a while, Tui Lolohea couldn't translate his Holden Cup exploits to the NRL, while Mason Lino, for various reasons, took years to establish himself as a first grader.

Johnson has been pivotal to all of the Warriors' best moments this decade. He helped them make the grand final in 2011, playing a key role in the famous preliminary final win in Melbourne, and inspired the late comeback in the NRL decider against Manly.

He was good during the mid-season burst under Matt Elliott in 2013, and in 2014, when the team ended agonisingly close to a finals berth.

Johnson probably peaked in 2015, before the team fell apart after his season-ending ankle injury.

And would the Warriors have made the playoffs last year without Johnson? Of course not. Not even close. He was a big influence, helped by the introduction of Blake Green and Tohu Harris to compliment the leadership of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Simon Mannering.

Sure, Johnson has been an enigma but mostly an asset. It's not just the moments of brilliance, but also the try assists, the long kicking game and the goal kicking ability. His presence alone creates space for his team-mates, as defenders double up on Johnson. As the NRL gets more structured with every season, his ability to find space and time is a valuable commodity.

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Unfortunately, the Warriors never got the best out of Johnson. Throughout his eight seasons, he rarely played in front of a dominant pack. There were periods in the 2011 campaign, and last year, and that's about it. Most other times, the Warriors forwards were middle-of-the-road and the men behind them suffered.

Things could have been different had the club spent big on a marquee forward in 2014, instead of throwing millions at Sam Tomkins. A similar sentiment could be applied to the Kieran Foran experiment, when there were much greater needs in other positions at that time.

For much of the past decade, the Warriors disregarded the most important league maxim; forwards win premierships. It's always been that way, from the Roosters in 2018 to the Broncos mean machine in 1998. The Warriors understood that in the early 2000s, when a brutal forward pack ushered in the best era in the club's history. They got it in 2005, when they recruited Steve Price and Ruben Wiki, and had a strong pack in 2011.

Of course, Johnson has to carry some blame. His inability to ignore nutcases and losers on social media, and progressively let it affect his game, was unfortunate. And he wasn't able to get the best out of himself often enough, guilty of form fluctuations and perhaps over-reliant on his natural talent.

But the club is also guilty. They couldn't provide the right platform around him. The constant coaching and playing personnel changes didn't help, as Johnson's core role was adjusted every season.

Johnson's presence sold tens of thousands of tickets, attracted sponsors and inspired kids all over the country to watch and maybe take up the sport.

He was the home-town hero, the Stacey Jones or Benji Marshall for a new generation.

Johnson is gone but won't be forgotten. He may not be the man for the future but the past eight years at Mt Smart would have been a lot worse without him.

And his absence will surely hurt the Warriors in 2019, on and off the field.