Fair Dinkum Department: Was signing Shaun Johnson a mistake for Warriors?

Welcome to ‘The Fair Dinkum Department’, where we dissect the biggest debates to come out of the last weekend of NRL action and assess whether they’re a case of ‘real’ or ‘ridiculous’.

Despite only four games over the weekend due to the State of Origin period kicking off, there was plenty of action and stories coming out of it.

Here’s how we’re seeing things after Round 12.

       

Warriors signing Shaun Johnson was a mistake

Real or ridiculous? REAL

Shaun Johnson has been a fantastic player in the NRL for over a decade – but the decision from the Warriors to sign him for 2022 and 2023 has proved to be a mistake. 

Although never brought back to the club to be the flashy player he once was, Johnson has struggled to make any real impact on the Warriors, with the side taking significant steps backwards in the past month. 

Their performance against Manly on the weekend further highlighted their issues, with Johnson among a host of Warriors players who struggled in the 44-12 defeat. 

In the past eight games, Johnson has produced just four try assists – and according to Fox League expert Michael Ennis, his recent form is impacting on the club’s marquee man Reece Walsh. 

“Shaun Johnson has come back to improve them…I’m not sure he’s playing any better than Kodi Nikorima was last year,” Ennis said. 

“I’m not sure he’s brought anything different and, in doing so, it’s affected Reece Walsh.”

Johnson has also missed the most tackles of any Warriors player with 29, and his running game as mentioned earlier is non-existent this late in his career.

The 31-year-old has another year to run on his deal with the Warriors, but their chances of success with him in the No.7 jumper seem limited – especially with Chanel Harris-Tavita moving on at season’s end. 

Ronald Volkman and Daejarn Asi are potentially players of the future, while utility Luke Metcalf will join the club next year, which will show a glimpse into the future. 

But with Johnson the only experienced playmaker in their ranks next year, Warriors fans are looking at another 18 months of the incredibly-likeable yet out-of-form Johnson at the helm. 

Canterbury are out of options at fullback and halfback for 2023

Real or ridiculous? RIDICULOUS

Canterbury suffered another loss over the weekend, going down to a depleted Panthers outfit missing a number of representative stars – and it has led to more questions over their spine for 2023. 

Matt Burton was brilliant at five-eighth against his former club despite the loss, laying on two tries and forcing two dropouts. He is the long-term option in the No.6 jumper, that much we already know, while Reed Mahoney has been signed for next year as the club’s long-term hooker – but what about fullback and halfback? 

It is well-documented that Canterbury don’t have a lot of room to move in their salary cap for next year, leaving them unlikely to sign a top-flight star in either position. As well as their cap space, there isn’t a lot of quality off-contract in either role for next year. 

Matt Dufty was dropped for the first time during his stint at Belmore and is moving to Warrington next year, while Corey Allan was signed at the start of 2021 but made his return to first grade out wide, with Jake Averillo playing fullback against Penrith.

Averillo is an exciting prospect, but has struggled to lock down one position during his early NRL career. Fullback could certainly be his spot, while young gun Creedence Toia has plenty of wraps and would have likely earned a call-up by now if not for injury. 

Their issues at halfback have been well-documented also, with Kyle Flanagan again struggling and clearly not the man for the job at the Dogs. Behind him, they have talented young gun Bailey Biondi-Odo, while teenager Bailey Hayward is a player to look out for. Zach Dockar-Clay is also capable of playing in the halves and would provide a calming influence. 

In the short-term, Mick Potter has plenty of options at his disposal at both fullback and halfback – and truthfully, so does whoever takes over for 2023 and beyond.

Flanagan and Dufty may not be the answer to their issues in the spine, but there is enough talent in their squad to find a balance with Burton and Mahoney next year. 

Joey Manu is good enough to be a full-time fullback

Real or ridiculous? REAL

Joey Manu was probably the best player on the field in Sunday’s clash between the Roosters and Raiders – despite his side going down 22-16 in the nation’s capital.

The 25-year-old was in everything and almost single-handedly willed his side to a comeback win.

Manu finished the game with 33 carries for 288 run metres, a try assist, 14 tackle breaks and seven offloads in a showcase of his strength, footwork and skill.

It was only the second time the Tricolours had tasted defeat with Manu in the No.1 jumper, with his sporadic opportunities at the back while James Tedesco is unavailable haven’t hindered the side at all.

But the question now begs – is he good enough to do it on a regular basis? Absolutely he is.

Manu is an exceptional talent and while he is a very different player to former Dally M Medal winner Tedesco, his skill level and ability to break a game open on his own is almost unmatched. 

If he has the desire to be a permanent fullback, Manu would obviously have to leave Bondi – something he considered when the Warriors came calling with a big-money offer last year.

After signing an extension with the Roosters until the end of 2024, Manu’s immediate future lies at centre, where is the best in the competition.

Beyond that, who knows – but it will likely be up to him and whether the ambition to test himself as a No.1 can outweigh the comforting walls of Moore Park. 

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