A singular goal for people in all walks of life is to make a difference.
For fans across the sporting spectrum, Shaun Johnson routinely does that through his rugby league wizardry on the field; witness his player of the day performance in the Vodafone Warriors’ win over the Bulldogs just last Saturday night.
But on Saturday he made a difference – and then some – well away from his regular stage by reaching out to his beloved code at grass roots level.
For hundreds who were at Mountfort Park in Manurewa plus the thousands upon thousands who had followed what happened in the days before, Johnson left an indelible mark through a feel good deed which will be etched in minds and hearts for years to come.
To backtrack for those who haven’t been on board with the story, the 25-year-old playmaker used his Facebook page on Tuesday to let his followers know he had Saturday off and that he wanted to run water for a team in the Auckland region. He invited registrations of interest; what he received was a deluge as his water boy proposal went viral.
The post attracted 10,000 likes and almost 2000 comments while a video of Johnson talking about his initiative on the Vodafone Warriors’ Facebook page had a massive reach of more than 640,000.
Johnson was back on his Facebook page on Thursday announcing he’d chosen the Manurewa Marlins Southsiders Under-10s, finishing his post by saying: “I shall see you guys 1030am at Mountfort Park”. The social media world lit up again with close to 10,000 likes and hundreds of comments on the post. Similarly, the reach was again big when the Vodafone Warriors shared the announcement on their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Johnson’s decision certainly resonated on a purely emotional level after Marlins coach Zak Ward had written in his post: “My 3rd year coaching and this year's been a little different as I'm doing it from my wheel chair, huge warriors fans and to most of them you are their favourite player be awesome for them and their mums haha.” Ward had lost his leg as the result of a car accident.
So the 2014 Golden Boot winner headed to Manurewa on Saturday morning to become the Pied Piper of Mountfort Park, not just for the kids, their families, friends and the Manurewa Marlins but for a small army of media cameras and journalists as well.
Johnson met up with Ward and his charges and told them he was there to run water during their game against the Tuakau Broncos and help in any way he could. He was presented with a special shirt emblazoned with the title: ‘Southsiders Waterboy – Shaun Johnson’. Johnson in turn presented a Kiwi jersey to Ward.
Before the game got under way, Johnson was fitted with no fewer than five lapel microphones by the video crews looking to capture audio of the highly-paid water boy at work.
So it was game on, an enthusiastic Johnson revelling in his role taking water out to the players as well as giving out instructions, tips and encouragement.
It became more than evident that the Broncos were in for a tough day against a stronger Marlins side – so Johnson simply changed sides. Someone happened to have an adult-sized Tuakau jersey which Johnson donned, not only running water for his new players but also joining in with his new team.
When it was all over the superstar posed for scores of photos, signed heaps of autographs and talked to the assembled media about his memorable morning out. He had some Vodafone Warriors packs for the Southsiders as well as tickets to the club’s ninth-round match against the St George Illawarra Dragons at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday, May 1 (2.00pm kick-off).
The memory will live on of Shaun Johnson, one of the country’s most recognisable and popular professional athletes, giving his time back to grass roots rugby league.
Did he make a difference? Did he what. Just ask anyone who was at Mountfort Park on Saturday morning and everyone else who has been following the story. It was gold, pure gold.