NRL: Warriors superstar Shaun Johnson hints he'll play on beyond 2024 season

Don't go planning any testimonial matches just yet, Warriors fans.

Shaun Johnson has provided the strongest hint yet that he's not quite ready to hang up his hallowed boots.

Last year, with his contract expiring, Johnson's resurgence as one of the NRL's premier playmakers made him a prime target for rival clubs.

He lit the fuse for the rebirth of the Warriors last season, when they rose from wooden spoon candidates to genuine NRL title contenders, capturing the hearts of the NZ sporting landscape in the process.

Shaun Johnson in action during pre-season.
Shaun Johnson in action during pre-season. Photo credit: Photosport

Eventually he spurned some big money offers from Australian sides - most notably Wests Tigers - to recommit with his boyhood club for one more season, after making it clear that - with his young family now back home and settled - retirement or the Warriors were his only two options.

That allowed him flexibility to make a decision further down the track around whether he wants to play on or call time on a career as one of the franchise's most iconic players.

He's since remained staunchly non-committal about the prospect that this season may be his last at Mt Smart, bu he admits he can see himself riding the Warriors' surging wave beyond 2024.

"I don't feel like this is my last year," Johnson, 33, told Newshub. "I can see myself playing on."

Among the key factors in his decision-making will be the the club's fortunes, and his own general health, happiness and well-being.

He acknowledges the alternative route as still a very real and appealing possibility, joking the ultimate decision may even be taken out of his hands.

"The club might say to me, 'sorry SJ, see you mate' and I'll be like, 'all the best'," he joked.

"I'm open to it being my last year, retirement and what's next. I feel like I can really have a good impact on some people around me, so I'm excited by that."

The Hibiscus Coast product rose through the developmental ranks with the Warriors, making his first-grade debut in 2011 and going on to play eight seasons with the club, when his electric style of play quickly cemented his standing as a fan favourite.

In 2018, he parted ways with the club, spending three years with Cronulla Sharks, before returning to the Warriors on a two-year contract in 2022. The abysmal campaign that followed saw Johnson become one of the scapegoats of their ongoing failure.

Reflecting on his mindset as he entered the 2023 season, Johnson concedes he had doubts about whether he'd continue for an 11th year with the franchise, as he struggled to find contentment on and off the field.

"I wouldn't say I was 100 percent," he said. "I was in a completely different space to what I am right now.

"It's crazy what 12 months can do. I was coming off a year where there was a lot of questions asked about me as a player.

"Happiness off the field... I just struggled. I wasn't sure if this is what I wanted to do.  

"It was more about giving it a chance, and having a coach and staff that really believed in me, and believed that there was no way I was close to the finish-line, and that I had so much more to offer to really get me going... then obviously being back in NZ settled with the family played its part too."

The main piece of the puzzle was coach Andrew Webster, who helped re-instill some much needed self-belief in Johnson, and the results spoke for themselves.

Shaun Johnson in action for the Warriors.
Shaun Johnson in action for the Warriors. Photo credit: Getty Images

The halfback arguably had the best year of his career in 2023, edged for the Dally M Medal and voted by his NRL peers as the competition's best player.

"Webby is the head of it all," said Johnson. "He set the tone for us and he set the tone for me."

"He played a massive role supported by [assistant coaches] Stacey [Jones] and Richard Agar... then the playing group - the confidence I felt from them was pretty cool too."

Now just two weeks on from the start of the new season, Johnson says the challenge lies in continuing the Warriors momentum - a process that involves more of a fine-tuning approach than any dramatic overhaul.

While that blueprint is in place, he adds there's no chance of any hangover from the positive vibes of last year's run to the brink of the NRL Grand Final.

"We need to move on," he said. "There's no doubt.

"What we did last year isn't going to just happen, but I think what we've done really good is we've celebrated those moments and we've actually taken pieces out of last season that we know are going to be of importance to us this year.  

"The best part about where we're at right now is that we're 12 months more advanced. We have a bit more clarity.

"We understand our roles a little bit better than where we were this time last year and, to me, that's exciting.  

"We don't have to spend time learning new things. We just need to get better and better, and better at the things we already know.  

"For that reason, I'm really excited."