Warriors half Shaun Johnson is close to rediscovering his attacking best through the early stages of the new NRL season, thanks to a chance encounter with a young fan in Perth.
The 27-year-old has revealed the profound impact a passing question from a youngster had on him prior to the season-opener against the Rabbitohs, providing what he describes as a timely “wake-up call”.
“We had a promotion on and this little kid asked me a question,” Johnson told media on Wednesday. “He goes ‘Hey, Shaun Johnson, can I ask you something? How come you don’t step anymore?’
“I said, ‘wow’. It sort of took me aback. This is a serious story.”
The unfiltered authenticity of the question struck a chord that deeply resonated with Johnson, inspiring him to recapture the fleet of foot that had league players up and down the country trying to imitate his show-stopping exploits.
“I told myself, this is a little kid who doesn’t know anything about social media and what people say, and was asking me a genuine question from what he watches week-to-week.
“That hit home for me, and made me feel like I’d stopped inspiring and making kids get out there, and start stepping and running around.
“So I jotted it down in my book leading up the game and was able to run the ball a bit more. I tried to do it again last week, and I’ll try to do it this week and keep building it.”
While the 2014 Golden Boot winner admitted his trademark free-wheeling attacking game - a freestyle affair predicated on instinctive reads - hasn’t been as prominent in recent times, Johnson insists it was more a matter of awakening the sleeping beast.
“I don’t think I completely stopped, it just wasn’t my first thought. That’s probably what I went away from.
“There were also a couple of setbacks with my ankle and knee, but coming back in this year, I’m feeling good and on two feet. And not having to do so much of the organisation, just chiming in where I can, that certainly helps.”
That organisational role has been taken up by new recruit Blake Green, whose veteran presence has afforded his halves partner the freedom to get back to what he does best – terrorising defences.
“[Green] is on ball and does a lot of controlling, which is really helpful for me and Roger [Tuivasa-Sheck].
“He’s in the middle of the park, in amongst it and getting the boys to their spots, and then calling the shape that he wants and that’s when we know where we need to inject ourselves.
“[Tuivasa-Sheck] is operating that left side, I’m operating the right side and [Green] is sort of in the middle when it comes to our good ball attack at the moment. So far, it seems to be going okay.”