On paper, Paul Gallen’s Suncorp Stadium record is so bad his Cronulla coach John Morris joked that the veteran lock was lucky to be picked for the NRL Magic Round opener.
The New Zealand Warriors have released popular scapegoat Shaun Johnson after caving to instinct and blaming him for everything dumb the club has done since inception.
Administrators reportedly agreed it was time to “go the whole hog” and single out the halfback for every issue the organisation has endured, including its lack of finals footy and the 2004 salary cap breach.
This allowed the club to easily cut ties with the Kiwi international after he was held responsible for the club’s failing culture and financial ails and for not running the ball more in the opening match defeat to Brisbane in 1995.
Sources report many inside the club had also finally lost patience with Johnson for not being Stacey Jones.
Johnson begrudgingly accepted the release after conceding he was no longer part of the club’s long-term goals, which are believed to be retaining a coach for more than 18 months.
While the Warriors acknowledged it was a shock call to dump a favourite son, they affirmed the decision was in line with their new ‘no halfback’ policy, a strategy that has seen the release of Mason Lino and Ato Hingano and links to Mitchell Moses.
Johnson, a will-of-the-wisp wizard for the Warriors over 162 games, 29 Tests and 43,872 unfair comparisons, burst on to the scene for the club in 2011, heinously crippling his future by piloting the side to a grand final.
But the relationship grew testy over the years despite the scant successes, culminating in his unceremonious dumping and subsequent deportation to Australia.
While oddly non-frenetic in recent times, the New Zealand club has built a reputation for all manner of lunacy, as evidenced by sacking its star halfback after a rare period of stability.
Johnson has revealed in the aftermath of his release from the club that coach Stephen Kearney “didn’t like me”, possibly because the club now thinks he signed Sam Tomkins.
But both parties have frostily noted there is no animosity after seven years sharing each other’s failings, with the club publicly declaring to Johnson there is “no hard feelings – after all, it’s only permanent.”
Following his release, Johnson was finally snapped up after an agonising 17 minutes on the open market, 15 of which were spent customarily linked with the Roosters.
He eventually settled for a three-year deal with Cronulla, deciding the Shire was the ideal place to continue his glittering career as an unjustly browbeaten scapegoat.
An excited Johnson branded his new employer, a broke organisation being investigated for salary cap irregularities under the searing spotlight of the carnivorous Sydney media, as somewhere he can “finally concentrate on footy”.
He also figured if Jeff Robson could allegedly cop some bonus coin under the table, he’d be “worth the table, at least”.
Sharks skipper Paul Gallen has welcomed Johnson breaking his contract to join the club, branding him as a perfect player to replace “deal-breaking traitor” Valentine Holmes.