Cronulla fullback Josh Dugan has angrily hit back at suggestions he is faking problems with his knee.
Despite a month of spluttering form, John Morris has retained faith in Shaun Johnson in the hope of boosting the prize recruit’s confidence and cost-to-benefit ratio.
A stint in the lower grades was raised after Johnson was dragged in Sunday’s loss to the undermanned Broncos, a history-making failure which resulted in the club’s first viral jersey-torching of the smartphone era.
Johnson returned a forgettable 12 metres from two runs and three missed tackles from 11 attempts, numbers that might earn an upgrade at the Warriors but, at Cronulla, are only bearable for six months.
However, Morris has opted to put the team first by sparing Johnson the axe for tonight’s match-up with the Storm, mainly because he’s on $800k and you can’t leave that kind of money lying around Henson Park.
Questions have been raised over the Kiwi halfback’s suitability to Morris’s game plan in recent weeks, with many believing he should make way for the impressive Kyle Flanagan because he’s better and cheaper.
Flanagan has been a popular choice after building a serviceable win-loss record, with calls for his inclusion reaching a crescendo on Sunday after kicking a much-needed goal, which isn’t a nice way to describe what he did to Matt Lodge but some obviously enjoyed it.
But this has only earned the rookie a tokenistic 19th man jersey for the Melbourne game, mainly because you can’t leave something expensive in reserve grade unless you’re Jason Taylor trying to outlive Robbie Farah.
Johnson was recruited by Cronulla in the off-season despite the club housing a stack of playmakers and piling debt, with recruiters content to splurge large to ensure nobody else had him.
The great cost he levied on the club was laid bare at his unveiling, with administrators forced to parade their prized signing in an unwashed sponsor-less jersey against the backdrop of crown land.
Nevertheless, the Kiwi superstar was welcomed as a trump card that could enhance the club’s title prospects, despite being akin to splurging for collagen lips after doing groceries at Aldi.
Johnson has since endured a difficult adjustment to his time in the Shire, reaping only three wins from nine starts as he battles persistent injury and one of the most appealing nightclub districts in the state.
His purchase has also dogged coach Morris with the conundrum of excess playmakers, which has proven not only a headache at the selection table, but also the comparisons to Paul McGregor.
Johnson has contributed to the side’s goal-kicking epidemic, with the woes running so deep there is now a danger if the side were awarded a penalty under the sticks with the scores level at full time, they would kick for touch.
But despite the former Warrior’s ails, he remains a popular member of the Sharks squad.
Appreciative teammates have regularly leapt to his defence by highlighting the small parts of his game nobody else sees, like his work off the ball and the incredible amount of income tax he pays.
The question now for Morris is this: how much more patience can he show before Johnson is lumped alongside other famous recruits maintained simply because of a high price tag, like Aaron Woods, Darius Boyd and David Smith?
Can Morris really omit his million-dollar signing at all? Ever? Will it require rivalling ScoMo for Sutherland’s greatest show of faith?
Hopefully, the excitement-machine doesn’t find himself mentioned in the same breath as Jarryd Hayne, who was continually selected at the Titans to justify his cost after refusing an incentive deal to be paid by the footstep.
Perhaps Morris could make a positional change to accommodate his blue-chip signing, much in the way Andrew Johns was moved to hooker for Brett Kimmorley, or Jackson Hastings was moved to England for spite.
Nevertheless, Johnson is a scintillating talent who will surely beat his teething issues at the club. And if he doesn’t, there’s always the bi-annual Nines.