Kiwi halfback Shaun Johnson has today reinforced his growing standing in the game by becoming just the fourth New Zealander and the second Vodafone Warrior to win rugby league’s coveted Golden Boot.
The 24-year-old captured almost twice as many votes as second-placed England back rower Sam Burgess to join a glittering list of former winners, among them three ex-Kiwi captains in Vodafone Warriors great Stacey Jones (2002), Hugh McGahan (1987) and Benji Marshall (2010).
The Golden Boot, run by Rugby League World magazine, was decided by a 13-man panel. The other finalists apart from Burgess were Johnson’s Kiwi team-mate Jesse Bromwich, England front rower James Graham and Australians Greg Inglis and Johnathan Thurston.
Johnson was man of the match in the Kiwis’ 22-18 Four Nations final triumph against the Kangaroos in Wellington last month. He played in all four matches in the Kiwis’ unbeaten campaign which began with a 30-12 win against Australia, followed by a 14-12 win against Toa Samoa and a 16-14 victory over England.
He began the year with standout performances for the Vodafone Warriors in the inaugural Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines and then scored 163 points in 21 NRL appearances for the club.
Now on his end-of-year break before beginning preseason training in the New Year, Johnson said he was stunned by the recognition.
“To receive the Golden Boot ahead of all those other players is pretty unreal to be honest,” he said.
“Being a rugby league fan growing up, I always knew about the Golden Boot award.
“I was pretty aware of the players who’d won it before, because they were players that I grew up watching like Stacey Jones and Andrew Johns. Then there were the current players that I admire like Johnathan Thurston.
“I felt I finished the year really well and was able to take that into the Four Nations, and was really happy with how I played for the Kiwis.
“It was just made easy by the culture that we have there now and the group of players that we have around us. There’s no way I could have received this award without those boys playing their part, and I’ll accept it on their behalf.”
The panel of 13 judges included representatives from Australia, England, France and New Zealand including former Golden Boot winner Garry Schofield, ex-Great Britain coach Brian Noble and past Kiwi internationals Robbie Hunter-Paul and Daryl Halligan.
From the six-man shortlist, each judge was asked to hand their leading contender five points, their second three and their third one. Johnson finished with 44 points, Burgess 23, with Graham third on 18 and Inglis fourth with 17. Double winner Thurston – who missed the Four Nations through injury – polled 13 points and Bromwich two.
“As is always the case with the Rugby League World Golden Boot, we asked the judges to consider the performances on the international stage first and foremost, and it’s undeniable that Shaun Johnson had the biggest impact at that level in 2014,” RLW editor Gareth Walker said.
“Throughout the entire tournament he provided a devastating mix of organising the New Zealand side and producing moments of individual brilliance himself.
“When the Kiwis needed it most in the final against Australia in Wellington, Johnson came up with the play of the competition, scything through the Kangaroos’ defence and racing past Golden Boot winner Greg Inglis – a feat very few achieve.
“It was a moment that summed up everything good about Shaun Johnson and this current New Zealand side, which is enjoying a golden era itself, having now won four major tournaments in the last decade.”
The Kiwis’ success is further illustrated by the fact that Johnson is one of six New Zealanders in the World XIII, the first time the Kiwis have had that many; they had five in 1983, 1984 and 2010.
Centre Dean Whare, winger Manu Vatuvei, prop Bromwich and second rowers Kevin Proctor and captain Simon Mannering are all named alongside Johnson, with Australia having just four inclusions this year (Inglis, Michael Jennings, Thurston and Cameron Smith) and England three (Burgess, Graham and Ryan Hall).
An interview with Johnson and the full World XIII voting details appear in the January edition of Rugby League World. You can download the digital version of that issue to your smartphone, tablet or computer – wherever you are in the world – by visiting http://totalrl.com/rlw
WORLD XIII 2014
1 Greg Inglis
2 Ryan Hall
3 Michael Jennings
4 Dean Whare
5 Manu Vatuvei
6 Johnathan Thurston
7 Shaun Johnson
8 James Graham
9 Cameron Smith
10 Jesse Bromwich
11 Kevin Proctor
12 Simon Mannering
13 Sam Burgess
HOW IT WORKS
For both the Golden Boot and the World XIII, the 13 judges were asked to select a top three in each position, with their first choice earning five points, their second three, and their third one.
PAST GOLDEN BOOT WINNERS
1984: Wally Lewis
1985: Brett Kenny
1986: Garry Jack
1987: Hugh McGahan & Peter Sterling
1988: Ellery Hanley
1989: Mal Meninga
1990: Garry Schofield
1999: Andrew Johns
2000: Brad Fittler
2001: Andrew Johns
2002: Stacey Jones
2003: Darren Lockyer
2004: Andrew Farrell
2005: Anthony Minichiello
2006: Darren Lockyer
2007: Cameron Smith
2008: Billy Slater
2009: Greg Inglis
2010: Benji Marshall
2011: Johnathan Thurston
2012: Kevin Sinfield
2013: Johnathan Thurston