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Golden Boot winner Shaun Johnson must go to the next level

New Zealand's Kevin Proctor (left) celebrates with try-scorer Shaun Johnson. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Roar Guru
19th December, 2014
18

Shaun Johnson has won the 2014 Golden Boot award as the best player in rugby league, but the 2015 NRL season will be his real litmus test.

Johnson beat Sam Burgess, who came second in the voting. James Graham was third, Greg Inglis fourth, Johnathan Thurston fifth, and Jesse Bromwich sixth.

The Warriors and Kiwi halfback becomes only the fourth New Zealander to win the award.

He receives it on the back of an outstanding Four Nations where he led his team to glory. As I wrote recently, Johnson came of age in that tournament and his international partnership with Kieran Foran keeps getting better and better.

The hot-stepping, skilful half was the man of the match in Game 1 of the Four Nations against Australia, and received the same honour in the final against the same opposition.

His kicking game was excellent, he scored two tries and set up plenty for his teammates. Johnson was the undoubted star of the competition, hence the Golden Boot award over Burgess, who did not feature.

Burgess was brilliant in the NRL, helping end the Rabbitohs’ premiership drought, but his move to join rugby union, thereby missing the Four Nations, didn’t help his cause.

The former Souths forward winning the Golden Boot gong would not have gone down well with some in the rugby league community.

Johnson’s NRL season was up and down, you could say satisfactory at best, with the Warriors failing to reach the finals. International form is weighted higher than club form for the Golden Boot, but it is difficult to compare 4 matches to 24 regular season games in the NRL.

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The Four Nations was a sprint but the NRL is a marathon.

In 21 NRL games in 2014 Johnson scored nine tries. In 24 matches in 2013 he crossed for 10, 22 games for a haul of 12 in 2012, and 16 matches for 6 in his debut season.

Johnson was not in the top 20 for try assists in the NRL this year, with Johnathan Thurston (31) and Cooper Cronk (25) at the top, and his teammate Sam Tomkins in front with 12. He was not in the top 20 for line break assists either – with Thurston (19) and Justin Hodges (17) at the top – or for line breaks.

He finished sixth in the point-scoring list with 163, behind Thurston, James Maloney, Adam Reynolds, Jarrod Croker and Jamie Lyon. Johnson was ranked ninth for kicks in play but was not among the top 20 try-scorers.

What does this tell us?

Consistency is still Johnson’s issue. There’s no doubting his phenomenal talent, and his terrific display in the Four Nations this year, but he needs to produce week-in, week-out. It’s easier when you have Foran beside you and Issac Luke at hooker, both world-class operators.

To reach the level of a Thurston and Cronk, he needs to dominate in the NRL consistently.

Lead the Warriors into the semis in 2015, and maybe another grand final appearance, and there won’t be any argument. Combine that with driving New Zealand to a Test series win over England in the UK, and the mantle of world’s best player won’t be in dispute with anyone.

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A maturing Johnson with international success on his resume, the kid who grew up idolising Stacey Jones and Andrew Johns, will be fascinating to watch next year.

Follow John Davidson on Twitter @johnnyddavidson