Warrior halfback Shaun Johnson always wanted to play for the franchise but was once told he was too small to even hold a spot in the Auckland Under 13s.
"I was really skinny, and I was quite soft and got hurt easy,'' he says.
''I was playing for Auckland under-13s and the coach told me I was too small to play, so I got left out.
''I decided to go away and eat lots of food and exercise and keep pushing myself and with the help of my dad I got a good figure and was fit to play.''
Johnson is already eyeing his next dream to work in the media.
''I'm linking up with Sky Sport so I'll probably be doing a bit with them, but just something in or around the sport would be good,'' he says.
''I'm not too sure yet, it's a broad idea at the moment, but I certainly think I'll be heading down that path."
The 23 year-old made the comments during a trip to his old home turf at Whangaparaoa School on Auckland's Hibiscus Coast on Wednesday - just days after an outstanding performance in the Vodafone Warriors 54-12 win over the Canberra Raiders at Eden Park.
His name is still etched on the honours board under 2001 sportsman of the year.
"When I got asked to come, I thought 'they won't even know who I am', but when I walked in that reception was pretty special," he says.
Johnson's year 0 and year 1 teacher Julie Nicholson still teaches at the school.
She remembers a young boy who was very sporty and loved running around and kicking a ball.
"He was always very popular with the children," she says.
Nicholson caught up with her ex-pupil before he went to the field for a coaching session with the school league team.
Pupil Darcey Leighton, 10, originally from league-mad Leeds in England, came in a Warriors jersey.
"I heard he was coming, I was going to wear my three Warriors shirts every day and keep swapping them over and over," she says.
Johnson comes from the nearby suburb of Gulf Harbour and joined the Hibiscus Coast Raiders when he was 4.
Paul Bayer, whose son Brad is a keen league player and a pupil at Whangaparaoa, says Johnson is his boy's inspiration.
Bayer senior was the architect of Johnson's visit, which came on the back of scoring two tries and nine out of nine conversions against the Raiders in Saturday's match.
Johnson says he was just really happy the team could win.
"I don't really put too much notice on accolades or scoring tries or kicking goals, it's more about the team performing well, so it was just a bonus I could get a couple of tries and score some goals," he says.
Whangaparaoa Primary will get a chance to see Johnson again on TV on Sunday when the Warriors visit Waikato Stadium in their round 10 game against the Canterbury Bulldogs.
"It's going to be a really good challenge for us," Johnson says.
"They're the form team in the competition and they got us last time, so it'll be nice to get one back."
Johnson and the Warriors, after two straight wins in the NRL, sit 12th on the ladder, two points off the top eight.
- North Harbour News
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