Former Warriors coach Tony Kemp believes the club may have to move on from Shaun Johnson if they're to stand any chance of securing a maiden NRL premiership.
The Warriors number seven has borne the brunt of the criticism for the team's sub-par performance against the Penrith Panthers on Saturday, where they made a prompt exit from their first finals series since 2011.
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Kemp – Warriors coach from 2004 to 2005 - says that criticism is justified after Johnson failed to meet the high standards in Sydney that both his pay cheque and previous play have set.
"It's part and parcel of being in that position," Kemp told Newshub.
"If you're earning a so-called seven-figure salary you're going to have a number of critics that will come out and say bad things about you if you don't perform. Shaun probably didn't hit the expectation.
"Only two weeks earlier he played the best game of his career against Penrith, so we were all looking for a repeat performance, but it was nowhere like that.
"Your marquee players you need to play great games all the time, not just drop in and out.
"I thought that Saturday night with the team that he had, if he played as good as a [Johnathan]Thurston or [Cooper] Cronk, we'd still be in the finals this weekend."
Kemp suggested that it could be time the Auckland-based franchise made some difficult decisions regarding their future and set their sights on more proven match-winners, quick to offer up one emerging superstar in particular – Penrith's Nathan Cleary.
"He's the future," said Kemp. "If you're looking to be astute about your acquisition of a marquee player that can bring you a premiership then I think you go and throw your cheque book at Nathan Cleary.
The son of former Warriors player and coach, Ivan Cleary, the NSW Origin representative played junior rugby league for the Mt Albert Lions before moving back across the Tasman after his dad was fired from the Warriors in 2012.
"He's spent most of his life here, his father played at the club for numerous years.
"Nathan grew up in NZ. He's more a Kiwi than he is an Aussie."
That would be a clear case of one or the other, with both Johnson and off contract at the end of the 2019 NRL season.
Those question marks aside, Kemp says that the onus now lies with Johnson to rebound.
"He's a in a position where he can have a huge influence on bringing a cup back to this country.
"Hopefully it's water off a duck's back and he gets on with it for next year."
Of more pressing concern for the Warriors is Issac Luke, the stand-out hooker currently without a contract for 2019.
His resurgence this season has been a key catalyst for the Warriors' run to the finals, something Kemp says will have plenty of rival clubs targeting his services. His increased value may be beyond what the Warriors are able to accommodate within their salary cap.
"I think he's got more than one offer on the table…he won't just be worried about the Warriors.
"He's played too good a football not to pick up a decent contract, and there'll be some clubs with some money.
"He's arguably been in the top three hookers this season with Damian Cook and Cam Smith. If the Warriors have the money then they'll try to sign him."
Regardless of the Warriors' first-round finals exit, Kemp has no hesitation in labelling their 2018 campaign a success, pinpointing their enormous improvement on the road.
"That is something they’ve been really struggling with in the past seven years. To get to the finals is a huge achievement.
"I think what you look at is not the eighth place, they were only two points away from winning the minor premiership.
"It's a little bit disappointing how they went out…but you can't just say that because of that it was a failure. The season was pretty good."