New Zealand Warriors could've won 2019 NRL with Shaun Johnson - Brian Smith

The Warriors could've won the 2019 NRL Premiership with Shaun Johnson, but football manager Brian Smith isn't wasting time thinking about 'what ifs'.

The 28-year-old star halfback will suit up for the Cronulla Sharks next season, after signing a three-year deal on Saturday, leaving the Warriors with limited short-term options to fill the number seven jersey.

Johnson left the club last week, after a well-publicised spat over their future plans and whether the former Golden Boot winner played a part post-2019.

On Tuesday, Smith told Newshub that Johnson always figured in their plans next year and admitted his departure may have dented their immediate premiership hopes.

Those hopes were enhanced after a promising 2018, with Smith acknowledging the Warriors were contenders with Johnson as chief playmaker.

"Could've, but….." Smith told Newshub.

"I think that is too hard a question - I don't think there's much point spending too much time on that.

"You can waste time on what 'ifs' and 'maybes', but the reality is that we sit here today with a plan in mind on what we can do. That plan can change at any moment - say, if we can't get the guy we are after to replenish our forward pack or wingers or whatever.

"We just need to not rush and work patiently through the process on who comes available."

One name chucked about the rumour mill on Tuesday was Brisbane Broncos halfback Kodi Nikorima.

The star of the Kiwis dominating third-test win over England last month is reportedly out of favour with new Broncos coach Anthony Seibold, and with the Warriors having player room and cap space, Nikorima is a logical candidate.

Smith stressed the New Zealand club hadn't been in contact with the 24-year-old, squashing reports they had declined the offer to take on the Palmerston North native.

"We have had zero connection with Kodi or Brisbane, or anyone else from Queensland," Smith said.

"Kodi brings some experience and he is talented, but we are not going to respond to every rumour on any player linked to us. We are the go-to club at the moment, so the comment on speculation isn't productive.

"We are always interested in players, but the link in the back page of a paper that he had been offered to us is a complete fabrication. Enjoy the ride - I'm having a bit of fun with it, it's a bit of a giggle."

Smith told Newshub the recruitment team were working hard, planning not only the shape of the club next year, but more importantly 2020, 2021 and beyond.

What success the Warriors can muster without Johnson in 2019 is unknown, but Smith doesn't think the club is that far away from getting in the premiership mix.

"You can expect we will have a big crack," Smith told Newshub.

"Results are difficult to forecast, but I think our boys showed the majority of last year that they understand what's needed to prepare to be where we want to get to.

"We had maybe three occasions where we fell below what we wanted and we got our tails smacked, but in general, we came up with a much more consistent level of performance."