Shaun Johnson remains one of the Warriors' biggest conundrums - but dropping him is not the answer.

Especially not at the moment.

It's about this time of the year, along with unwelcome Autumn rain and jammed motorways, that criticism begins to ramp up on the Warriors halfback. Invariably the Auckland club makes a poor start to the season and Johnson becomes the focus. It's happened every year since 2013, since Johnson has been the senior half at Mt Smart.

NSW State of Origin coach Laurie Daley is the latest, suggesting on Monday that Johnson should be benched or dropped from the squad altogether, as a reality check to "get the best out of him".


In some ways it's curious coming from Daley; he was a legendary player, but hasn't marked himself as the best judge of halves talent as a coach, using five different players in the No 7 jersey for NSW over four seasons.

But Daley has the right sentiment, in that he wants Johnson to reach his potential, so he can "take his game to the next level".

But dumping Johnson at the moment- even for one game - would be pointless. The 26-year-old can be a source of frustration at the Warriors, and his status as the number one earner at the club makes him an obvious target.

In terms of playmaking and organisation, he's not comparable to Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Daly Cherry-Evans or Mitchell Pearce - and maybe never will be. But he has improved in that area and is the best playmaker the Warriors have got. That situation may change in a few months, if Kieran Foran is fit and firing, but at the moment there is no better option to run the team.

Johnson is also is a game breaker, and his mercurial talents could lift the Warriors out of their current malaise. Across 129 NRL games, he averages almost one try every two games, including plenty of match winning efforts, and has 111 try assists. He's also been durable and was the only Warrior to figure in all 24 games last season.

Whatever you think of Johnson, the Warriors aren't the same team without him. They fell in a hole in 2015 when he was injured - losing eight in a row - and benching him didn't work in 2013 under Matthew Elliott.

But there are definitely some unresolved issues with Johnson. He's still prone to untimely errors, more than most of his NRL halfback peers, especially with crucial last tackle options, which can swing momentum massively in a game. And Johnson, for whatever reason, doesn't always stamp his mark on matches.

He can be erratic; he's yet to become a Stacey Jones type figure for the Warriors; someone who is not only the face of the club, but also its beating heart.


But there are some mitigating factors, like the insane number of coaches and assistant coaches at Mt Smart that have tried to shape his game since 2011, a revolving cast of halves partners and a forward pack that has struggled to dominate in the last few years.

Johnson does need to be challenged, and the ideal scenario may emerge in a few months, with Foran playing every week and Ata Hingano and Mason Lino pushing their case to be in first grade. Then Johnson may come under pressure and that would be the time, if he wasn't performing, to give him a spell in reserve grade.

But until then, it would be foolhardy. ​