Shaun Johnson could be set to play No 6

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 12:11 18/11/2012
Shaun Johnson
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SHOW ON THE ROAD: Shaun Johnson and the Warriors will play a regular season game in Wellington next year.

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Under new coach Matt Elliott, the Warriors' halves combination could be set for a rejig. Ben Stanley looks at the options. 

Ever since league legend Andrew Johns uttered those now oft-quoted words on how much he rated rising young halfback Shaun Johnson in 2009, the Warriors nation had the story dialled in.

The name Johnson, with the No 7 under it, playing in club colours for what would, hopefully, be a storied career.

Last year, he made waves in his first year in the NRL, helping carry the Warriors to their second NRL Grand Final in 2011.

Though starting brightly, last season wasn't so flash, with Johnson looking a little out of his depth as it progressed.

With preseason under way, new coach Matt Elliott is running through the options for the men wearing the numbers in the halves - meaning Johnson's destiny in the Warriors may not be limited to the No 7 jersey.

In addition to 30-test Kiwis veteran Thomas Leuluai, coming to the club on a three-season deal this year, Elliott has the likes of Pita Godinet and Carlos Tuimavave at his disposal as well.

Second-row offload king Feleti Mateo is another option at standoff if needed.

While Sunday News understands a move for Johnson to standoff is being considered, Elliott made one thing clear: Right now, Johnson and Leuluai were the likely starters at No 6 and 7 come round one 2013.

"We've got a lot of options there, that's for sure," Elliott said.

"But, if you had to ask me who is ranked one and two at the moment, and that's what happens in footy, these other guys have to go around them.

"Carlos Tuimavave and Pita [Godinet] having been setting the standards in a lot of ways at training, but I really like the dynamic of Thomas and Shaun."

The reality of the modern game means the responsibilities and style of play for the men in the halves differs little - but will mean the supposed legacy for Johnson at halfback may be over.

Leuluai, currently on a slightly reduced training schedule because of his continued recovery from a broken leg suffered in June, is open to a move to wherever he is needed on the paddock - and is simply looking forward to seeing what he can spark up with his younger partner in the halves.

"I feel comfortable in both," the 27-year-old said.

"I suppose it's about what suits and what fits the team. There's not too much difference between halves these days, between No 6 and 7. It's more the combination between the two.

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"Obviously, there's a spot there, and I want to get a spot. I've just got to work hard. We'll see how I go and Matthew will make those decisions."

Leuluai has made a big impression on Elliott, who has even hinted at a possible leadership role for him next season.

While not possessing the raw talent of Johnson, who begins his preseason training this coming week, Leuluai's game could become a real asset to the Warriors during the next few years.

A solid, hard-working threat out of dummy half, he's an experienced sniper who consistently turned heads while playing for Wigan in the Super League.

"I'm massively impressed with Thomas," said Elliott, the former Raiders and Panthers boss.

"He hasn't been able to do the full training but I really believe in his personality he's got something the team needs.

"He's just busting to get on the field, because he's going to get in charge of our people."

Whichever way it's served up next season, the men wearing No 6 and 7 will have plenty of experienced heads to turn to for help, with club legend Stacey Jones and new assistant coach Andrew McFadden on call whenever advice is needed.

"It's tough position to play half," Elliott said.

"Whether you've got 6 or 7 on your back, it's a tough position because it's not about what you bring with your performance, it's about your influence on the other 12 people on the field with you."

And that influence that could be diverted from the path expected by many Warriors fans.

- Sunday News

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