The search for Shaun Johnson's Warriors replacement has been narrowed down to two players — and both are relatively unknown youngsters.

Warriors' coach Stephen Kearney confirmed on Thursday that the club was not looking to recruit any halves to fill the vacuum left by Johnson's departure.

The Warriors were linked with a number of playmakers in the wake of Johnson's exit, and the ongoing machinations of the NRL market mean there might still be options available.

But Kearney ruled out bringing someone in and is instead putting his faith in local Chanel Harris-Tavita and ex Bulldogs and Panthers utility Adam Keighran.


Neither have played first grade but both have obvious potential.

Keighran, 21, was named in the 2018 Intrust Super Premiership team of the year, while 19-year-old Harris-Tavita played for the Junior Kiwis last October and was the Warriors 2017 NYC player of the year.

"In my eyes, at this stage, we are fine with who we have," said Kearney, when asked about halves options. "They are tracking along nicely."

As they enter their third month of pre-season training, Harris-Tavita and Keighran have both spent plenty of time beside Blake Green, now the Warriors' only established playmaker.

"They have both put their hands up over the course of the summer," said Kearney. "They are [two] young men who sense there is an opportunity. We have been putting them in as Greenie's other half, different each week, so they get a run with Greenie."

Stephen Kearney has narrowed down to two the options to replace Shaun Johnson at the Warriors. Photo / Photosport
Stephen Kearney has narrowed down to two the options to replace Shaun Johnson at the Warriors. Photo / Photosport

Kearney insisted there wasn't a frontrunner at the moment, and the Warriors' brain trust will give themselves as long as possible to make the decision, after assessing form in pre-season trials against the Storm (Geelong, February 22) and Tigers (Whangarei, March 2).

"I couldn't say [who is ahead] at this stage," said Kearney. "It changes from session to session. All I know they are working really hard, [and] doing a lot of work with [assistant coaches] Stacey [Jones] and Todd [Payten].

"We are swapping the young guys each week. We won't make that decision until after the two trials that we have had. They will get an opportunity against Melbourne to play together but in terms of final decision making we won't do that until we have to…the week before the competition starts."


Peta Hiku has utility appeal, but Kearney said it was unlikely he would be shifted from his centre or wing spot. And there appears to be little prospect of Tohu Harris reprising his cameos in the No 6 jersey, having been an unlikely five-eighth for both the Kiwis and the Storm.

"Absolutely not," laughed Kearney of Harris. "[He's] ruled out. Well and truly".

Shaun Johnson joined the Cronulla Sharks from the Warriors. Photo / Getty
Shaun Johnson joined the Cronulla Sharks from the Warriors. Photo / Getty

Rotorua product Hayze Perham was also mentioned as a possibility, though he's an outside contender given the difficult transition from fullback to the halves.

The decision – and the process – is one of the most important challenges of Kearney's coaching career. He has to identify the most suitable option to take on the second playmaking role, then equip him with the confidence and belief to perform in one of the most demanding positions in the NRL.

Hooker Issac Luke has made encouraging progress after his offseason operation but still looks an outside chance to be ready for the season-opener in two months.

"It will be touch and go," said Kearney. "He is tracking along fairly well and he is a bit further ahead than we anticipated but a lot of that will depend on when he starts doing the contact work."

Captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is also carrying a niggle, described by Kearney as a soft tissue injury, but it is not serious and he took a full part in training on Thursday.