The Warriors won't be able to replace Shaun Johnson. Not this year. Or next. Maybe never.

Since the spectre of Johnson's absence is likely to be a hot topic for most of the 2019 season — or at least the first few months — let's get some key points out of the way now.

It's not a time to relitigate the saga of his departure, except to say there is surely regret on both sides for the way it played out.

But Johnson, and all he offered offensively, is irreplaceable, simply because there is no one else quite like him in the NRL.


There is the dazzling sidestep off either foot, the like of which is seen only once or twice a decade; think of Kerry Boustead and Michael O'Connor in the 1980s, Henry Paul and Brad Fittler in the 1990s, Benji Marshall in the 2000s and Johnson, along with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, this decade.

There's the ability to twist and turn out of the tightest spaces, the spiral pass thrown from either hand, the acceleration, the capacity to stop and change direction on a sixpence, leaving defenders flailing.

Johnson added an excitement factor. His presence sold tickets, and the buzz of anticipation when he had the ball in open spaces was felt around the whole stadium.

The Orewa College product also brought a wildcard factor. Although he had shortcomings in term of consistency and was sometimes frustrating to watch, when Johnson was on the field, there was always hope he could spark something to retrieve or win a game.

Remember the buzzer-beating four pointer at Shark Park in 2015, moments after Ryan Hoffman's charge down? Or the "golden try" against Penrith in front of a delirious South stand in 2016? The dummy, step and stretch that won an arm wrestle against the Roosters in the same year? The fastest hat-trick in NRL history against the Raiders in 2013, or the scintillating touchdown to beat the Storm in front of a heaving Mt Smart two years later?

Across 162 games for the Warriors, Johnson scored 62 tries. He also had 126 try assists which, according to league historian Will Evans, means he either scored or had the last pass or kick in one-third of the total tries scored by the Warriors in that period.

And that doesn't account for the many other occasions when Johnson was involved earlier in a try-scoring movement, or the catalyst in a previous play.

The situation is reminiscent of when Stacey Jones departed in 2005. The Warriors tried plenty of options in the halves, and Grant Rovelli, Nathan Fien, Brett Seymour and Michael Witt all had their moments, but there was no one quite like "The Little General".


Jones had a greater all-round impact at the club, but both he and Johnson were once-in-a-generation talents.

On some levels, it's a shame we won't see Johnson again in a Warriors jersey and also a pity he wasn't able to fulfil his potential at Mt Smart.

But it's also time to move on.

Let's hope the Warriors learn to live without him. Johnson has been a dominant presence, especially on the attacking side of the game, for the past eight years.

His absence will put more demands on Blake Green, Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke, and also mean the forwards have to be more assertive than they were last year.

But it will also force every player to raise their game.

There will be more grind and less glitz, more function and less flair, but they will find a way.