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Like first day at school: Johnson pinching himself over Warriors return

Shaun Johnson says he got teary the first time he addressed Warriors teammates and he felt a kid on his first day at school when he donned the new uniform.

Johnson didn't buy into any talk of unfinished business or righting any past wrongs, but rather spoke of his excitement at what the group could achieve in the next few years, as well as bringing back the experience he gained while at the Sharks to help complement what the Warriors were already building.

"It's been really cool," Johnson said.

"The first thing I did (out of quarantine) was I went home and tried my kit on and looked at myself in the mirror like it was my first day of school.

"There was a bit of disbelief I was actually back and getting to wear this kit again and represent this club again.

"I got up and spoke to the boys and I got a little choked up, there was something in the back of my throat just thinking about the journey I've been on then ending up right back here and being able to represent the club again.

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"There's a sense that it feels like I'm in the right place but it's a completely different crew to when I was last here but overall it's a good feeling to be back."

Johnson wasn't focused on how he left at the end of 2018, as much as it was not on his own terms at the time.

"How I left, not being able to say goodbye the way I would have liked to to the staff, the playing group and the fans ... I never fully got closure on that but I'm not coming back to seek any closure, I'm coming back because I truly believe we can do something special with the group that's assembled here and it's the best place to be at this point in my career," he added.

He didn't agree he needed to leave to come back a better player but was happy to reach into those experiences to help make his return a successful one.

"The players I've been able to rub shoulders with, the experiences, the coaches I've been able to work under, I just feel like mentally I've grown leaps and bounds from where I was a few years back," he said.

"The application I've put into the mental side of the game and understanding who I am as a person and a player and what my best performance looks like. I've had some real clarity over that the last few seasons.

"That's probably the biggest gain I've had. Physically I've had my struggles at times but I think mentally my application and detail and understanding on what winning football looks like is pretty clear.

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"At the time I didn't think I needed to leave or should leave but I've always been one to try and make the most of any situation you're dealt ... it took a couple of months to realise I did have a lot of growth to do and I'd been in the Warriors system since I debuted, didn't really know any other way.

"Mixing it up with players you'd played against and you respected, the likes of Andrew Fifita, Wade Graham, Matt Prior, those sorts of guys, Josh Morris, guys that have played in big games and won big games, it was really cool to see how they approached the game and yeah, it was a little different to how we did things.

"You've got the coaches as well, John Morris I got along really well with, Josh Hannay's an awesome up-and-coming coach, just different relationships, different conversations with each and every one of them.

"There's plenty to take away and I think I absorbed a lot."

Acknowledgement of Country

The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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