NRL: Warriors coach Stephen Kearney shocked by Shaun Johnson criticism

Stephen Kearney says he was shocked to learn NRL star Shaun Johnson felt the pair had a poor relationship, having never sensed an issue in their seven years together as coach and player.

Warriors coach Kearney revealed Johnson first told him some home truths when the halfback requested an early release from his contract last month.

Kearney was surprised, after a relationship that began in 2012, when - as New Zealand coach - he introduced the exciting young playmaker to effectively replace Benji Marshall.

Kearney took charge of the Warriors in 2017, with Johnson the key player.

Johnson's unhappiness with Kearney was first aired publicly last week.

"I've been there [Warriors] eight years and had six coaches," Johnson told reporters in Sydney. "The sixth coach didn't like me, so what."

While Kearney wanted to play down the "hysteria" surrounding Johnson's departure, he felt compelled to defend himself against those comments.

"I can honestly say, after spending close to 20 test matches working with him and certainly at close quarters over the last two years... the first time I heard about that [poor relationship] was two weeks ago, following the request for a release," Kearney told media.

"It came as news to me, but I've been around the business long enough to know that that happens.

"It's unfortunate that it happens and we all move on. I've got no problem with Shaun."

Kearney said there was no hint of an issue, when the Warriors conducted a season- ending review.

He said he operated with an open door throughout the season for players to air grievances and never heard from the number seven, who said he felt shut out of key conversations around tactics and player signings.

On the day he signed his three-year Sharks contract, Johnson said Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan had outlined information around next season's approach and beyond.

He said he'd never had that sort of detail with Kearney at the Warriors, where he wasn't part of the leadership group.

Kearney said other Warriors players didn't share Johnson's views.

"That's one man's perception.... 99.9 percent said that it was a very inclusive contract, where every voice matters in the footy club," he said. "That's a point that I want to make."

Kearney confirmed he had rung Johnson to discuss his future, while the player was on tour with the Kiwis in England in October. He reiterated the playmaker was a key part of their 2019 plans.

"However, I was going to help him be better at his job," he said. "I was committed to making sure that happened."