Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Johnson gifted but flawed

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Few sportsmen blessed with Shaun Johnson’s natural gifts fail to realise their potential as he has done.

It is a great pity and I hope he realises his dream of winning a NRL crown with the Cronulla Sharks after failing to do so in his eight years with the NZ Warriors.

However he wasn’t worth the $1million a season the Warriors were paying him because there was too much brittleness to his play amongst the flashes of breath-taking brilliance.

Great halves like the retired Andrew Johns and Jonathan Thurston are game breakers, players who seized the moment to catapult their teams to victory at crucial moments.

Johnson, blessed with startling acceleration and an amazing sidestep, lacks their passing and kicking skills. But, most of all, he lacks their confidence and nerve.

With the Warriors having made the NRL top eight playoffs for the first time in seven years, Johnson failed to deliver in the first game against the Penrith Panthers.

He did, however, win man of the match honours in the Kiwis 26-24 win against the Kangaroos though many felt that recognition should have gone to rookie Joseph Manu who had just won a NRL medal with the Sydney Roosters.

Again, Johnson failed to deliver in the first two away tests against England before bouncing back beautifully with a strong third game in the 34-0 third test triumph. Which once again illustrated what an enigma he is.

No Kiwi halfback has scored the magical tries that Johnson has although many will claim the more consistent Stacey Jones, Gary Freeman and Kenny Stirling were better value than the Million Dollar Man.

However there were times too much was expected of him, especially a few years ago when it took time for him to regain form and confidence after a horrendous ankle injury.

Unfortunately, when he did recover, he persisted in kicking too much when his true value to the team was in his elusive running.

Sadly the Kiwis let go Mason Lino long before agreeing to Johnson’s demand to end his contract a year early. Lino had impressed when given his chance this year and looked to be Johnson’s logical successor.

Finding a champion replacement won’t be easy although the club claims it has several promising youngsters.

Interestingly, like new Kiwis coach Michael Maguire, Cronulla believe Johnson’s best position is not halfback but five-eighths where he has a little more space to execute his attacking flair.

It’s a smart switch I believe should have happened years ago.

Meanwhile, all of a sudden, New Zealand cricket has an abundance of outstanding spinners when just a few years ago it worried about finding a replacement for Daniel Vettori.

Since then Mitch Santner and Ish Sodhi have managed to fill the void on wickets conducive to their talent with Todd Astle receiving fewer chances. But with injury making them unavailable for the away series against Pakistan, Ajaz Patel and Will Somerville gleefully grabbed their chance.

Patel’s brilliant bowling won the Black Caps the first test before Pakistan thrashed them in the second, only for the Black Caps to win an historic decider with Patel (3-42) and Somerville (3-52 and 7-127 for the match) doing the damage in the hosts’ second innings after splendid centuries from Kane Williamson and BJ Watling.

Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author

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