Shaun Johnson's true potential will only manifest itself when he is given more leadership responsibilities, according to former Warriors coach Matt Elliott.

Elliott, who was at the helm at Mt Smart from October 2012 until April 2014, says Johnson can progress from "really good to great' but needs to be tested with more of a senior role.

Elliott, who has also coached the Raiders (125 NRL games) and Panthers (111), says his decision not to promote Johnson to the leadership group during his tenure at the Warriors was a major mistake.

Johnson has been a hot topic over the last two weeks, since the Herald revealed the Warriors had invited his management to explore other options when the transfer window opened on November 1.


That's put his future in doubt, with questions over whether the club is prepared to invest heavily in Johnson, whose previous contract made him the Warriors' first million dollar player.

The halfback has appeared to be affected by the speculation, with mixed games in the first two tests against England after a superb display in the win over the Kangaroos last month.

Talks with the Warriors are expected to begin in January, after Johnson returns from his holiday following the Kiwis tour.

"It's been an interesting one to observe from a distance," said Elliott. "Time catches up with you; Shaun is 28 ... he was a 24-year-old when I was associated with him."

Elliott feels a decision he made at the start of 2014 was pivotal.

"I made a mistake coaching Shaun," said Elliott. "Shaun captained the Nines team in 2014 and he did an outstanding job. Some of the playing group thought he was a bit over zealous with that — I'm not going to go into who — but I got that wrong."

"I think that the fact that Shaun hasn't had an established leadership role — and think of the position he plays — that was a failing by me. I saw some unbelievable leadership qualities during that Nines series, I really did.

"For Shaun to progress as a player ... he doesn't need to be captain of a team but he needs to be an integral part of the leadership group. Regardless of whether Shaun wanted to be in the leadership group, he needed to be in there. He was ready. He's got leadership skills that haven't been tapped into and that's the good-to-great bit for Shaun."


A prevailing view in league circles is that Johnson, as a senior playmaker, goal kicker, go-to man on attack and the face of the club has enough on his plate and any extra responsibility will become a burden, but Elliott disagrees.

"[A senior leadership] role may be happening at the Warriors — but it doesn't feel that way," said Elliott. "Shaun's a really, really good player who has greatness in him. People think that greatness is going to manifest by him doing all this extraordinary stuff, but the greatness for me will manifest through leadership."

Elliott believes it could also be the solution for Johnson's much debated consistency.

"If you are a leader or a skipper, accountability to be consistent and lead the team by performance increases," added Elliott. "Maybe that inconsistency comes through Shaun performing a role, rather than being his best self and leading."

Elliott also feels that a potential move from Mt Smart, as much as it would be a shock for many fans, might be mutually beneficial.

"It could be the best thing for both parties," said Elliott. "People haven't seen Shaun as a leader at the Warriors for a long time now and maybe he needs to go somewhere where he gets given that responsibility."

"Sometimes a change in environment can stimulate that growth [and maybe] Shaun's most extraordinary football is available at another club."

Whatever happens, Elliott is backing Johnson to one day claim the ultimate prize in the sport.

"Shaun has the capability, undoubtedly, of helping a team win a grand final," said Elliott.

"A lot of the negative attention he gets is not fair. Tell me how many halfbacks play well when their forward pack is not going forward? Name one. Johnathan Thurston was getting a lot of criticism last season, but his forwards weren't going forward. That's the nature of the position. The Warriors pack got beaten up and people blame Shaun. It's not a mystery. You get Shaun quick play the balls, and good luck to the opposition."