It might be only a number on a jersey but Warriors coach Andrew McFadden hopes switching Shaun Johnson from halfback to five-eighth will relieve him of the burden that goes with the No7 shirt.

Johnson has played halfback since debuting for the Warriors in 2011 but at times has been weighed down trying to juggle organisational duties while playing his natural, flamboyant running game.

As revealed by the Herald, McFadden contemplated shifting his chief attacking weapon last season but it has taken the arrival of experienced former Cronulla halfback Jeff Robson to make the switch a reality.

Robson will make his club debut at halfback in tomorrow's opening round clash against Wests Tigers at Campbelltown Stadium, with Johnson wearing the six jersey for the first time.


The differences between the two positions are minor but McFadden believes the change will help free Johnson of the game management tasks inherent in a halfback's job description.

"There's a subtle suggestion for Shaun that this is the way that we want him to be," McFadden said. "We want him to be a little freer. He's got full roaming capacity in a game and not having the seven on his back, it's that sensation that he doesn't have to really control the game. That's Jeff Robson's role and Shaun's going to be allowed to be free."

Johnson is comfortable with the change but refutes the idea it will provide him with more room to run and insists it's more about shedding himself of the organiser tag.

The switch will also give the Warriors a similar balance to other high-quality NRL halves combinations, with the chief conductor in the No7 role and five-eighth being home to more ad-lib style ball-runners. Think Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan at the Cowboys, Daly Cherry-Evans and Dylan Walker at Manly and South Sydney's Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker.

"I've seen a few comments that people have made that 'it's going to give Shaun more room' but I don't really think it will," said Johnson. "Robbo coming into the side, he's a traditional No7, and just training with him, the direction he gives the boys, it suits him that he wears the No7.

"And six has always had that free reign without that pressure to really guide a team around. It just makes sense more than anything."

2 Mar, 2016 5:10am
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Robson, the 33-year-old 157-game veteran, wasn't always cut out for the halfback job and says it took him years to develop the skills needed to steer a team around the park.

"It took a lot of time for me to build that confidence and work into that role but I've made a career out of being a good organiser and a good communicator and that's what I was pretty much brought over here to do," he said. "These days, most sides' half and five-eighth play a similar role and it's no different to Shaun and myself.

"He [Johnson] plays a bit of right side and I play a bit of left side and we've got no set boundaries. We can roam across the field and that will be the plan on the weekend, to link up as much as we can and build a combination."

League Immortal Andrew Johns has long been a fan of Johnson's ability and also rates Robson's gritty style. The former Newcastle, New South Wales and Australian No7 sees positives in the positional switch.

"He [Robson] will steady them up and do all the organising and let Shaun roam around the field and play what he sees visually. He'll be a really good buy," said Johns.

"It doesn't matter now that they play left and right. You don't really have genuine first receivers and second receivers like they did 10 years ago."

Shaun Johnson








Five-eighth or halfback.

Representative honours:

14 tests for New Zealand.

Club & first grade debut:

v Sydney Roosters, Sydney Football Stadium, June 4, 2011.

Jeff Robson








Halfback, five-eighth, hooker.

Previous clubs:

Manly (2004-08), Parramatta (2009-11), Cronulla (2012-15).

First grade debut:

Manly v Cronulla, Brookvale Oval, May 23, 2004.