Warriors coach Stephen Kearney insists he has no problems with former star halfback Shaun Johnson and praised the Kiwi international's contribution to the Auckland-based NRL club.

Kearney today broke his silence on the Johnson saga, speaking publically for the first time on the events that led to the No 7's bitter exit from the Warriors before joining Cronulla on a three-year deal.

But those hoping Kearney would return fire, after Johnson last week told Sydney reporters that his former club and international coach "didn't like me", were left disappointed.

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Kearney did his best not to fan the flames on the ugly public spat which began in late October, as he reluctantly fielded questions about the perceived rift that had developed between him and the Warriors record-holding pointscorer.

The former New Zealand test coach denied he had any issues with his former protégé, who he introduced into the international arena when he handed Johnson his first Kiwis jersey back in 2012.

Former Warriors star Shaun Johnson has joined Cronulla on a three-year deal. Photo / Getty Images.
Former Warriors star Shaun Johnson has joined Cronulla on a three-year deal. Photo / Getty Images.

"I've got no problem with Shaun," said Kearney.

"I heard about that comment on the weekend and I can honestly say, after spending close to 20 test matches working with him and certainly at close quarters over the last two years, and we've got a pretty comprehensive review process at seasons end, with not only myself but other senior management at the club, and I've got an open door in the football area."

Kearney confirmed he first learned that Johnson was unhappy with the state of their working relationship, when the 28-year-old demanded a release from the final year of his million dollar per season contract at a meeting on November 27.

"The first time I heard about that was two weeks ago following a request for a release," he said.

"So it came as news to me but I've been around the business long enough to know that happens. It's unfortunate but it happens and we all move on."

A fortnight before that fateful meeting, upon arriving home after the Kiwis' end-of-year tour of England, Johnson complained to media that he had not heard from anyone at the Warriors about his contract situation, after CEO Cameron George had publically announced the club were in no rush to extend his deal beyond next season.


Kearney did not want to get into the detail around how negotiations between both parties broke down completely, but confirmed he had made an effort to contact Johnson while he was in Britain and explained his plans to help improve his game.

"I rang Shaun whilst he was away on tour with the Kiwis and made it very clear that we were very committed to Shaun in 2019.

"He had a contract with the club, however I was going to help him be better at his job. I was committed to making sure that that happened, but what's transpired has transpired.

"Shaun requested a release and after some careful thought we didn't want to keep a guy here who didn't want to be here.

"In terms of how much say [Kearney had], I'm not going to go into that."

Kearney paid tribute to Johnson's work over eight seasons at the Warriors and said the former Golden Boot winner should be remembered as one of the club's great servants.

"It's really important that we remind ourselves of the contribution that he made to our footy club," he said.

"He played 162 games and has provided a great deal of highlights to our members and fans and that shouldn't be forgotten.

"Amongst all of the carry on that's been out there, that should be remembered, and it's really important we do that. And again, as a footy club, we wish him well."

When asked how he thought Johnson would go slotting into the Sharks' halves under Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan, Kearney was optimistic, saying: "I think he'll do a great job there."

Teenage playmaker Chanel Harris-Tavita is a contender to fill the Warriors No 7 jersey next season. Photo / Photosport.
Teenage playmaker Chanel Harris-Tavita is a contender to fill the Warriors No 7 jersey next season. Photo / Photosport.

Johnson's exit has left the Warriors with a large hole to fill in their roster and the club has been linked with numerous potential replacement halves.

They remain in a strong position to recruit another marquee playmaker, or could instead buy two or three medium-priced players to fill other positions, and look to develop and test drive their quartet of young emerging halves, Chanel Harris-Tavita, Adam Keighran, Paul Turner, and Hayze Perham.

"That's a process that we're working through," said Kearney.

"The next recruitment decision that we make, they're really important ones, and we're not going to be panicked into making any rash decisions."

He remains confident that a rookie half, operating together with veteran five-eighth Blake Green, captain and fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, and hooker Issac Luke, can help the Warriors become title contenders next year.

"I think the young guys certainly have got an opportunity to be able to do that.

"It's not all placed at their feet, they've got some pretty handy people around them."

The Warriors will look to test out a variety of halves combinations in two pre-season trial games against Melbourne at Geelong on February 22 and Wests Tigers in Whangarei on March 2.

They open their NRL campaign with a round-one home match against Canterbury on March 16.