Shaun Johnson gets a kick out of all the hype that has surrounded his NRL rise and his first Kiwis match.

One year ago, Shaun Johnson was playing club league for the Hibiscus Coast Raiders. Today he's a star of the NRL, with a grand final appearance to his name and a firm hold on a Kiwis jersey.

Add in public adulation, increased expectations and being a victim of racism, and it's fair to say it's been an eventful time.

Rarely has a player's arrival been so eagerly awaited, so talked about, but Johnson has most definitely arrived.


He announced it with his 70m solo try against the Broncos last year and, if there was any doubt, backed it up with the try he set up for Lewis Brown against Melbourne that sent the Warriors to the grand final and the two he engineered in that final match against Manly, when the Warriors threatened an unlikely comeback.

This season he has enhanced his reputation, if that was possible, scoring four tries and recording 10 try assists in eight appearances.

There's a widespread belief, even among the Warriors, that Johnson could be the player to help deliver a first Premiership title and it's the sort of hype the 21-year-old has had to live with for some time.

It doesn't seem to faze him, which is typical of someone born into Generation Y who believes success will automatically come, and even playing in an NRL grand final seemed the natural thing.

"Without being cocky, I love it," Johnson says of being Shaun Johnson. "I love everything that has come with what I have been able to do.

"I'm really starting to see it now. Little kids genuinely get excited when they see me and it's scary seeing that because I remember when I was little and I would see Stacey and Henry Fa'afili and all those boys.

"It just takes me back. I love it. It's kind of cool being on the other side of it to see what it's all about. I haven't had anything too bad happen to me yet."

It's probably inevitable. It's what comes with being a tall poppy in a small field of sparse flowers. Kiwis teammate Benji Marshall has often grown tired of the attention, certainly the unwanted kind, and the constant evaluation in what he describes as the Sydney fishbowl.

"There are going to be times when he will take a couple of knocks and will suffer injuries like every player does," former Warriors halfback Stacey Jones says.

"And he won't be able play his best every week and will get criticised but he has to believe in his own ability and he's shown he can do that. He's handled himself extremely well and, if he keeps doing that, he should be fine."

Johnson first came to attention in 2009 when he was signed by the Warriors as a skinny 68kg who had forged a reputation as an outlandishly gifted touch player, but it was taken to an altogether different level when he was compared to Jones.

Andrew Johns even said he hadn't been "this excited about a player in a long time" after watching Johnson make his Junior Warriors debut in the under-20s competition.

The Warriors didn't rush him, believing he needed to learn his craft before playing with "real" men and it only seemed to heighten the anticipation ahead of his debut against the Roosters midway through last season. It was worth the wait.

Johns and Johnson have since become close friends and the former Australian international is someone Johnson seeks out.

"I talk to Andrew Johns a bit. He makes quite a bit of effort to speak to me and see how I am feeling. I really appreciate that."

One area Johnson needs to improve upon is his defence; he sits fourth on the NRL's list of worst missed tacklers for the season with 38. He now has size on his side - he weighs 88kg - and needs to learn how to use it. But he's clearly developing as a player. He's not afraid to boss his much more experienced teammates around ("it's what they expect from me") and his kicking game is turning into a major weapon.

But it's what he does with ball in hand that continues to get pulses running.