OPINION: As Shaun Johnson continues to contemplate his future, it appears the dream scenario is unfolding for Warriors fans - and the club itself.
NZ Warriors' halves stocks for next year and beyond are already looking congested. With Chanel Harris-Tevita, Luke Metcalf, Te Maire Martin, and Ronald Volkman all returning, the club already has four signed on and secured.
Then you have Johnson. The Warriors cult hero is yet to decide whether he'll extend his current one-year deal with his beloved club, although he's made it clear there's no chance he'll continue his career anywhere else, other than Mt Smart.
Think about Johnson earlier in his NRL career. If we're being really honest, the Warriors needed Johnson more than Johnson needed the Warriors.
As a result, the club was forced to pay overs. They were paying a premium, because he was the marquee man.
He was the face of the club, but his output on the field often didn’t represent value for money for a struggling team and a struggling club.
He made the decision to test the waters in Sydney, spending an injury-plagued and middling couple of seasons with Cronulla Sharks.
Last year, he came back to the Warriors on a reduced salary. He's not earning peanuts, but he's clearly not the top-paid player at the club either.
There's been a feeling around that the club that 2023 might be Johnson's last season at the club, but look at what's happened. You have the promise of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck's comeback, the team have finally started to click, and Johnson is playing the sort of football and has developed into the player Warriors fans always hoped he would.
He no longer possesses the searing pace and the lightning sidestep that were once his trademarks, but with time in the saddle - time in that crucial position for over a decade - he's developed that onfield awareness and intelligence, seeing the game from a more holistic point of view.
His kicking game has improved and he seems to have an extra half a second on the ball to make excellent decisions - the sorts of decisions that we're used to seeing from some of the great halfbacks in the game.
Perhaps even more importantly, his game's gone to another level from a mental point of view and that's exactly where you want Johnson to be.
On top of all of that, he has made it clear - during an incredibly open and honest media session - he is not going anywhere. If he's going to play rugby league next year, it will be for the Warriors.
That puts the club in a very strong position.
I'm not suggesting for a minute the Warriors brass are going to lowball Johnson, but championship teams in a salary-cap competition are built on players being prepared to play for a little less money, with the enticement that they might achieve something really special.
At the moment, the Warriors are in a position where they have assembled a team of talented players with a level of depth they've rarely seen.
If Johnson is prepared to play next year for a little less money to accommodate some of the players who are at the stage of their career where they need to be earning that elite level of money, then it's the recipe that Warriors fans - and the club - have dreamed of.
It's the sort of recipe that has led to teams like Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters being able to secure titles.
How did they assemble those championship-level rosters? Some might have their own theories, but often it’s because players were prepared to play for a little less in the hope that they might actually secure a title.
At this point, I would be stunned if Johnson, 32, didn't continue for another season. The Warriors season would have to really fall off a cliff for him to turn his back on one more year, especially considering the wealth of incoming talent.
Johnson has been around this game and this club for such a long time, and apart from reaching the Grand Final under Ivan Cleary in 2011, the veteran has never been a part of a Warriors side with this much upside.
He can sense it, and I don't believe for a second Johnson would allow himself to walk into retirement and away from an opportunity to play with the squad they've now assembled, alongside those returning assets.
He will go again.
Andrew Gourdie is a Newshub sport presenter.2023-05-31T05:48:49Z dg43tfdfdgfd