Million dollar halfback Shaun Johnson’s time in a Warriors jersey could be coming to an end.
The Kiwi test star has a year to run on his contract but with the NRL player transfer market opening on November 1 the Warriors are yet to make an offer to re-sign the 162 game veteran beyond next season.
The 28-year-old has been the Warriors chief playmaker since he first burst on to the scene in 2011 and retaining him has always been the club’s number one priority – until now.
In a move that would previously have seemed unthinkable, the Herald understands the Auckland outfit have told Johnson to explore his options and test his value with rival clubs on the open market.
Johnson last year re-signed with the Warriors on a two-year deal worth seven figures making him the highest paid player in the club’s history, however he has struggled to live up to his huge price tag.
Sources close to the Warriors have revealed they are no longer willing to fork out the sort of cash reserved only for the game’s elite players to keep him on their books.
Consistency has eluded Johnson throughout his career and there are doubts the mercurial playmaker is the right man to steer the club to a historic first premiership win. It’s understood the Warriors are keen to look elsewhere to see if there is a better long term option for the No 7 role.
The door is not shut on Johnson staying at Mt Smart but much like what unfolded with re-signed hooker Issac Luke, if they are to table a new offer it will be a drastically reduced deal.
Warriors CEO Cameron George confirmed the club was in no rush to re-sign Johnson and keeping their options open.
“The club are open-minded about the future and we’ll talk to Shaun and his management when he gets back from overseas about the future,” said George.
“We’re very open-minded and with any recruitment decisions it’s about the team and the club first. But whilst we’re being open-minded about the future, we’re not going to be scared to make big calls on any player.
“We want to win the competition and we’ll be doing everything recruitment-wise to get the best people in the club to do so.
“We are not scared about making any big calls on our roster because we want to win this competition and everyone’s always under review.”
How Johnson reacts to the Warriors hesitancy will be intriguing. A change in scenery could be good for him and the club and it may be better to rip the Band-Aid off now.
What interest his agent Peter Brown is able to muster among rival clubs could potentially make the matter more urgent for both parties ahead of next season.
It’s also understood the Warriors have a contingency plan in place to ensure they won’t be caught short if Johnson was to depart following his return from the Kiwis end of year tour of England.
It remains to be seen whether any club has enough money remaining under the salary cap for next season to tempt Johnson to seek an early release but stranger things have happened in rugby league.
As last year’s player transfer frenzy showed, once one big name decides to change clubs a domino effect follows.