The return of Shaun Johnson could be the kick start the Warriors need.

After an injury interrupted season, the halfback is back on board for the clash against Manly in Christchurch on Saturday afternoon, and hopefully for the rest of the season.

Though his teammates played it down this week, having him out there is a vital boost.

Mason Lino has done well in his absence — and is a capable footballer — but Johnson provides that creative spark and flash of inspiration that the Warriors have sorely missed.


He also brings a ton of experience. Though he still comes across as a fresh-faced kid, the milestone of his 150th game this week is significant.

He's still not quite the finished product, but Johnson is a world away from the rocket-heeled youngster that wowed the NRL in 2011.

"It's a cool milestone," said Johnson. "It's not something I have thought about too much but people around me seem to be making a [big] deal about it. I'll get the game out of the way first, hopefully get the win, then be able to sit back and enjoy it and reflect on those 150 games."

Though he is the face of the Warriors, Johnson remains a polarising figure with some supporters, who decry his inconsistency, and complain about his tendency to go missing in games.

He has sometimes been guilty of that in the past, but there are also mitigating factors. The procession of coaches and assistants at Mt Smart since his debut hasn't helped, nor has the constant merry-go-round of halves partners. He's rarely played behind a truly dominant pack, and often had inexperience outside him.

That's changed this year, especially with the impact of Blake Green, and maybe Johnson could finally fulfil his potential. There have been signs already, with his energetic display in Perth, the clutch finish in Canberra, the composure against the Cowboys and the trademark flair versus the Tigers. And there's also a feeling, after 149 games, that Johnson's value is fully appreciated at Mt Smart.

The Warriors are a different side without him. It worked against the Roosters (in Sydney) and the Dragons, but went badly pear-shaped in the last two home games.

Aside from his renowned flash and dash, the Warriors have missed Johnson's prodigious ability with the boot, as he possesses one of the best long kicking games in the NRL. He's also the kind of player whose mere presence sets opposing teams on their heels, even when he is on the other side of the ruck.


For those reasons, Johnson is seen as the man who could resurrect the Warriors' season but he doesn't carry an extra load.

"I don't feel that pressure at all," he said. "It's a collective thing and I want to get out there and play my part and perform to the level that I know I can. I'm sure every one of us have that same mindset. [There's] no pressure to feel like I have to do a little bit extra or anything like that. It's been a bit patchy over the last month with our performances ... if we can get back to what we were doing at the start of the year, when we were really clear about our roles, and what our footy should look like, we'll be alright."

By the numbers
Age: 27
Debut: Roosters, Round 13, 2011
Games: 149
Tries: 61
Points: 825