As seen on https://www.stuff.co.nz
For the first time in a long time the walking, talking punching bag that is Shaun Johnson is experiencing a feeling he had almost forgotten was possible.
“I’m so happy and I love being happy,” Johnson said after his penalty goal helped the Warriors seal a drama-charged 32-30 win over Cronulla on Sunday.
Johnson has good reason to feel that way, given the Warriors are 4-1 to start the season for the first time since 2018 and sit in second spot on the NRL ladder.
He’s two points off the top of the Dally M leaderboard, too, and looks comfortable in his own skin managing Andrew Webster’s durable and dogged Warriors outfit around the park.
It’s a welcome change from a testing few years for the charismatic 32-year-old halfback.
He was shown the door by the Sharks at the end of 2021, got dropped by the Kiwis and had to be separated from wife Kayla and daughter Millah in a testing return season to the Warriors which was mostly spent in Australia.
“People didn’t understand how much that was affecting him, I saw his daughter grow up on the phone with him,” Warriors hooker Wayde Egan said.
“That took a massive toll on him, he’s back around the people he loves and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Johnson – 231 games and 13 seasons into an NRL career – finally feels like he is in a good space.
Part of that is linked to the fact that Webster has given him a clear vision of his playing style which has been a constant source of debate since his arrival in the NRL as a hot-stepping five-eighth.
“It’s the confidence that I get from the top down,” Johnson said.
“The most common line I hear (from the outside) is ‘you need to run the ball’.
“I’ll look at that and go ‘what do you f…ing mean? I’m not a front-rower’.
“It’s the clarity around the positions ‘Webby’ puts me in within our structure where I can run the ball. It’s my choice if I want to run the ball.”
When the going has got tough – like when they were 20-0 down against Cronulla – Johnson and his Warriors team have found a way to get themselves out of trouble.
“I love winning and working hard for something and achieving it,” he said.
“I love that I get to go home and see my wife and my daughter.
“The whole product is there for me right now, inside and outside of football. I haven’t had that in the past and people won’t get that.
“We get judged on 80 minutes, so the happiness for me is that we’re showcasing the hard work. That’s ultimately what I’m happy about … You can’t pay for happiness.”