Shaun Johnson's Warriors departure 'expected and necessary' - Brian Smith

Shaun Johnson's abrupt departure from the only NRL club he has ever known shocked the Warriors fanbase, but for a 40-year veteran of the game, it was just part of NRL life.

Warriors Football Manager Brian Smith played 31 NRL games from 1973-79 before embarking on a 30-year coaching career.

Smith was a part of the club's brains trust that decided to allow the former Golden Boot winner to test his value on the open market - with the club re-evaluating its future and if Johnson played a part beyond 2019.

Johnson left the Warriors last week before announcing on Saturday he had signed a three-year deal with the Cronulla Sharks after a whirlwind weekend stop in the Sutherland Shire.

Smith admits the Warriors had planned for the 28-year-old to play an important role in the quest for a first premiership in 2019, but given the dynamic nature of the NRL, they were comfortable letting him go.

"The words that come to mind are expected and necessary - it's all just part of life in the NRL," Smith told Newshub.

"You just can't hope for complete stability - you always have to have a little bit of dynamic activity happening within the playing group and the club.

"There was a bit of unexpected in there as well.

"Peter [O'Sullivan] and I have worked together before and I have known Stephen for half his life - we work really well together so it's pretty hard to shock us. We got a bit of a surprise when Shaun said he wanted an immediate release from the club.

"We were able to cope with that pretty quickly and now we are in a good position where we don't have to hurry."

While the Warriors faithful are desperately waiting for the news on who might replace Johnson, Smith has called for patience as the club plans for beyond 2019.

However, the former four-time losing Grand Final coach says one phone call can change the direction of a club and the Warriors are a great position to capitalise on any potential player recruitment opportunities given the departure of Johnson and the retirement of Simon Mannering.

"Lots of people get this picture in their head that you get a group of players and you work with those players for a year - that's not the case at all," Smith noted.

"Things can literally change by the time I get from the planning room downstairs to my office.

"If there is a phone call that says this player is not happy or this guy wants to come to your club then the whole dynamic of the club can change. That's what I mean by expected because you have to expect the unexpected.

"We now have a necessity to re-strengthen our squad in a different way. We no longer have Shaun as part of our squad anymore so what can we do about that?

"Well, it's not that often that you can get the kind of money to work with. You are always wishing you had that little bit extra to get player A over player B but that's all out the window now.

"We have this fantastic opportunity to shape the top end of our cap the bottom and the middle.

"We can potentially retain guys next year that otherwise may have been difficult to keep and that then means we may not have to look at other clubs."

Shaun Johnson wearing Cronulla blue.
Shaun Johnson wearing Cronulla blue. Photo credit:

The Warriors' playmaking stocks appear low on paper with Johnson joining Mason Lino and Ata Hingano at Australian clubs.

That might not exactly be the case with Smith pointing to a quadrant of young stars that are clamouring for the chance to fill the big boots of the Kiwis half.

Junior Kiwis star Chanel Harris-Tevita is joined by recent Panthers recruit Adam Keighran, Hayze Perham and Paul Turner as ones to watch in 2019.

Turner, in particular, has impressed club officials with his showings so far in pre-season.

"We have in our club right now three possibly four young guys who are halves and we have the opportunity now for those young guys to compete for Shaun Johnson's previous position, but also in the longer term we can find a partnership out of those young guys that could set the game alight," Smith told Newshub.

"That happened with Stacey Jones - the whole direction of how the Warriors wanted to play changed because of the way he played.

"There is a young fella called Paul Turner who no one has ever heard of - he is cutting swathes through the pre-season at the moment. We like the look of him and we are giving him a shot at it and things in this game can happen fast with young guys."

Be it a big money recruit or a young Protégé , Smith is confident the club is on the right track.

"We don't feel like we are that far away," Smith said.

"We were two points away and a bit better for and against away from being minor premiers. That was 2018 - building towards we want to go.

"We need a few additions, not many but maybe three or four in a few positions over the next year or two. If we spend that money wisely that can have an impact in 2020 and 2021as well as 2019."


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