NRL: Revitalised Shaun Johnson still has more to give for NZ Warriors as 2023 season begins

Revitalised under new coach Andrew Webster, NZ Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson has no doubt he still has what it takes to succeed in the NRL.

Now 32, Johnson is about to embark on his 13th season in the NRL, and the last of his current contract with the Warriors.

But under the stewardship of Webster, who's taken the reins at the Warriors after working as an assistant coach to Ivan Cleary at two-time premiers Penrith Panthers, Johnson has a new lease on life.

In the same week as the NRL season launches, with the Warriors to kick-off their campaign against Newcastle Knights in Wellington, the veteran halfback presents a leaner, meaner figure.

Shaun Johnson.
Shaun Johnson. Photo credit: Photosport

Helping Johnson's cause is the comfort in the Warriors' being able to base themselves at home for the new season - his form improved drastically in 2022 after the team's homecoming against Wests Tigers.

Facing competition from new recruits Te Maire Martin and Luke Metcalf, as well as young gun Ronald Volkman, Johnson has put in the work to put himself front and centre to be a starting half for the new season.

But despite being the most senior of the Warriors' halves, Johnson knows he's put the work in to lead the team around the park in 2023.

"We haven't played a game yet, so I should be feeling pretty good - and I am," said Johnson.

"I've been able to train [for] the full pre-season. I can't remember the last time I've headed into a season feeling as fit and having the reps under my belt like I do at the moment.

"Having Webby come in, challenging me, making me hungry to reestablish myself as well. They're all reasons why I've had a good pre-season.

"Like I said, we haven't played a game yet, but all I know is I can leave this conversation knowing I've given myself the opportunity to go out there and perform for the full season with the work I've done.

Shaun Johnson.
Shaun Johnson. Photo credit: Photosport

"I've got that confidence under my belt."

There's a very real possibility that 2023 is the final time Johnson runs out for the Warriors.

Since his debut in 2011, the halfback has been arguably the Warriors' most high-profile player, on and off the pitch as the face of the club.

But New Zealand's famed tall poppy syndrome has seen Johnson at times vilified, with the club's failures in recent seasons - either side of a stint with Cronulla Sharks - placed on his shoulders.

Despite the frustrations of some fans though, Johnson's place in Warriors' folklore isn't in doubt.

With 927 points, Johnson is nearly 300 clear of Stacey Jones - considered to be the greatest Warrior of all time - and could cross 1000 this season.

As far as statistics go, though, Johnson has never been one to dwell on how he'll be remembered, and instead asserts he still has plenty more to give at the highest level. 

"It's probably something I've never thought about until the question was asked. I never played my career thinking 'how am I going to be remembered?'

"I've just played it in the moment. People's opinions of me have come from that, whether it's been good or bad.

"The only real opinions I care about are the ones of the boys downstairs. That's all that really matters to me.

"I'm driven to prove myself to them, and I'm driven to prove it to myself that I still belong in this arena, and that I've still got something to offer.

"Because I am getting better."

The Warriors begin their 2023 NRL campaign on Friday night against Newcastle Knights.