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Shaun Johnson to be a top player

BY AARON LAWTON
Last updated 05:00 22/03/2009

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Junior Warriors sensation Shaun Johnson has vowed not to let praise from the game's greatest player Andrew Johns go to his head.

The 18-year-old from Whangaparaoa, made his debut for the Junior Warriors last week.

And so impressive was his performance at standoff, Aussie league great Andrew Johns has sung his praises in today's Sunday News a move sure to set off a bidding war for the player's long-term future.

"Far out, man," an emotional Johnson said when told of Johns' comments.

"To hear that from a player like him... wow. To be praised by someone I idolised growing up him and Stacey Jones were the two guys I looked up to as a kid is just amazing.

"It definitely puts the pressure on but at the same time, it makes me even more excited about playing league. I really, really want to do well now.

"Before, it was kind of about myself and now all these people are saying nice stuff about me, it makes me want to strive to live up to their expectations."

Johnson, a New Zealand touch and Aussie Rules rep, is a product of Orewa College and made his way to the Warriors after an unsatisfying stint playing first XV rugby.

"I played rugby for school but didn't like it at all," he said.

"My dad told me I could move to Aussie if I wanted and try my hand at league, which I started playing at club level when I was four.

"We decided to send a CV over to (Gold Coast club) Burleigh Bears and pretty much the dude who received it was a Kiwi and he just sent it straight back to the Warriors. They called me straight away.

"That CV had none of my league stuff in it. It was full of my touch rugby achievements.

"I came here and was light as. I was 68kgs when I arrived and I was told I had to pack on the weight. I'm about 82 kgs now but my goal is to get to 87kgs."

Johnson, who says dad (Paul), mum (Say) and brothers (Adam, Joe, Topo) are his No 1 fans, works full time at Rebel Sport.

He will line up for the Junior Warriors against Manly in Sydney today.

"For my first game of Toyota Cup I didn't really know what to expect at all," he said. "I knew it was going to be fast but I didn't expect it was going to be as fast as it was. Everyone's talking about the try I scored or the one I set up but it's all about the team. The boys are the reason I had room to play like that."

Junior Warriors coach Tony Iro says there's no doubt Johnson has talent.

"He's obviously got a lot of talent but there's a lot of talented kids in New Zealand and Shaun has got a lot of stuff in his game to work on," Iro said.

"He's always wanted to be a league player and play in the NRL. That's his goal and he's been in our development squad for 18 months to two years. Shaun's a very gifted footballer but it's too early to tell what his future will be in the game. Ask me that question after round 20."

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- Sunday News

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