Ben Francis: Who will replace Shaun Johnson at the Warriors?

OPINION: After the shock departure of halfback Shaun Johnson at the Warriors, the question on everybody's lips is who will replace him?

Johnson's time at the club came to an abrupt end, when he was granted immediate release from the final year of his reported million-dollar contract.

The 28-year-old leaves as the Warriors' all-time top pointscorer (915) and sits in the top 10 for most games played with the team (162).

Club chief executive Cameron George said football GM Brian Smith and recruitment manager Peter O'Sullivan were looking at all the options for 2019 and beyond, while claiming the Warriors are "best-positioned NRL club salary cap wise".

"We are going to find the right person to fulfil the roles that we require to have the best chance to win the competition. That takes good planning, good management, good considerations and there are many options.

"The phones have been running hot, I can tell you that."

The Warriors pretty much have two options - pay overs for a player that won't likely be as good as Johnson, or have faith in the system and use some of the options at their club.

Chanel Harris-Tavita in action with the ISP team.
Chanel Harris-Tavita in action with the ISP team. Photo credit: Photosport

Chanel Harris-Tavita

 

If the season was starting right now, the 19-year-old would likely start at halfback for the Warriors.

Harris-Tavita has proven his skills while working his way through the ranks at the club. He was the Warriors NYC Rookie of the Year in 2016 and then won the NYC Player of the Year in 2017, along with the NZRL Junior Player of the Year.

This year, he played with the Warriors reserve squad in the Intrust Super Premiership (ISP) and showed his talents for the Junior Kiwis against the Junior Kangaroos, with his 'scorpion kick' try-assist in the 17th minute.

New Warriors recruit Adam Keighran.
New Warriors recruit Adam Keighran. Photo credit: Photosport

Adam Keighran

 

Another young prospect the Warriors have at the club is Adam Keighran, who last month signed from the Penrith Panthers.

Like Harris-Tavita, Keighran has yet to play first grade, but he's proven himself as one to watch, after being named in the ISP Team of the Year, although he was picked at centre.

However, his natural position is in the halves and he did slot in at five-eighth to helped the Panthers reserves win the minor premiership.

The 21-year-old is a proven left-footed goal kicker and finished last season as the competition's top scorer with 202 points in 23 games (10 tries, 81 goals).

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

 

Stephen Kearney could make one of the boldest coaching moves of his career - and one of the craziest positional switches - by moving the Dally M Player of the Year from fullback into the halves.

Tuivasa-Sheck could slot in at six, with Blake Green at halfback, while the club continues to develop their young prospects.

The move would be a massive gamble, but it has proven successful with other players in the post.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck won the Dally M award.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck won the Dally M award. Photo credit: AAP

Preston Campbell went from star fullback at Sharks early in his career, to premiership-winning five-eighth with the Panthers in 2003.

Darren Lockyer won the Golden Boot award as a fullback in 2003 and then switched to five-eighth the following year, winning the NRL title in 2006.

More recently, Cameron Munster played most of his games at fullback in the first two years of his career, before turning into one of the game's best five-eighths for the Storm - the position he's played in the last two Grand Finals.

If the Warriors don't want to gamble on one of their young prospects, they could slot in either Pita Hiku - who has played in the halves in the NRL and for the Kiwis, or Tohu Harris, which is unlikely to happen, as he is the team's best second-row forward.

Open market

 

Mitchell Moses and Corey Norman have been heavily linked to the club, but it is understood the Warriors are not interested.

The pair are off contract at the end of next season.

"In terms of Mitchell Moses, it is not a push from our end," George told the Daily Telegraph.

Dylan Brown in action with the Eels ISP side.
Dylan Brown in action with the Eels ISP side. Photo credit: NRL.com

Latest reports suggest the Warriors are actually interested in unproven Eels prospect Dylan Brown.

News Limited journalist Brent Read claims the Warriors are willing to offer a six-year multi-million dollar deal.

Brown was a member of the 2017 Australian Schoolboys side, played five games for Eels feeder club Wentworthville Magpies in the ISP last season, under new Warriors ISP coach Nathan Cayless.

The teenager is contracted to the Eels until the end of next season, but it's believed the Warriors are keen on securing his services for 2020 and beyond

Other Australian-based players on the Warriors radar include Luke Brooks, Te Maire Martin and Ata Hingano.

Martin talked to the Warriors in 2017, while contracted to the Panthers, before he moved to North Queensland on a three-year deal as Jonathan Thurston's understudy.

Desperate option

 

Warriors legend Stacey Jones out of retirement (again) or All Blacks hero Stephen Donald. Maybe Nathan Fien at a stretch (jokes).

But the beauty - and curse - of the NRL is that anything can happen. We might wake up tomorrow to find two star halves have become available.

Ben Francis is a Newshub online sports producer.