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A lack of composure proved costly for the Warriors in 2021 but the return of the two greatest playmakers in club history should ensure they hold their nerve in tight situations this season.

On the field, Kiwi legend Shaun Johnson will call the shots in the No.7 jersey, returning to the role he made his own in 162 games between 2011-18.

Off the field, the Little General, Stacey Jones, is back on the coaching staff and ready to pass on pearls of wisdom to Jones, Chanel Harris-Tavita, Kodi Nikorima and Ash Taylor.

Jones was the heart and soul of the Warriors between 1995 and 2005, playing 238 games and leading the club to the 2002 grand final before a two-year stint with Catalans in Super League.

In 2009 he returned for a swan song under the coaching of Ivan Cleary, playing 23 games before calling time on a decorated career which also included 46 Tests for New Zealand.

“I was fortunate enough to work with a lot of these players a couple of years ago so it has been pretty easy to fit back in, and I had a relationship with Nathan Brown from when he was a consultant with the club,” said Jones, who coached the Warriors under 20s and NSW Cup sides before joining up with the NRL team in 2017.

Memorable games of 2021: Reece lightning

“Cameron George (Warriors CEO) and Mark Robinson (owner) wanted to bring in a coach was who familiar with the surroundings and the team and for me it was a great opportunity to get back on board.

“I flew over with Shaun just before Christmas and it’s a little bit tough without my family here but the club has been really good to me since I’ve been coaching.”

With their opening trial against Melbourne just three weeks away, Jones and head coach Brown are putting plenty of work into their halves as they search for a combination than can lead them back to the finals.

Only injury can prevent Johnson from taking the halfback role when the season proper kicks off but who wears the No.6 and who fills the bench utility role will come down to who puts their hand up against the Storm on February 19 and the Titans a week later.

“When games are in the balance you need your key players to step up and that comes with experience and we’ve got a couple of experienced halves in Shaun and Ash,” said Jones.

“Then we’ve seen the growth in Chanel’s game, and we’ve got Kodi, so there’s some good balance in that group and it’s a key part of the game we need to get right.

“Shaun is the most experienced and a marquee player for us and if he’s fit and healthy he’ll be leading the charge and the other blokes are vying for spots.”

Stacey Jones - Hall of Fame

“It’s refreshing to have Shaun around the group, the advice he gives to the young players, and he even helps us out as coaches, we are learning a lot from him.

“I’ve seen a real good growth in his knowledge of the game and how he goes about things and it’s pretty exciting to have him back in the group.”

Another man delighted to have Johnson back in Warriors colours is new skipper Tohu Harris, who is targeting a return to action in mid-May from a knee reconstruction.

Harris played one season alongside Johnson in 2018 before the playmaker departed for Cronulla and is looking forward to renewing the relationship once he regains full fitness.

“It’s a slow and drawn out process but I’m building my strength back up and it’s tracking well,” Harris said.

Harris somehow gets the ball down from an RTS kick

“I’m back running on the field and I’ve started doing some change of direction running. It’s been really good to be out on the field and be able to move around a bit.

“The next block I’m about to go into is a really important one and how that goes will determine whether that return date will be moved or not.

“Hoping to get through this next month or so and build some real speed and strength in the knee so that things can progress smoothly.

“Not being in skills sessions has been a real challenge but I’ve really enjoyed working with the other leaders and I’m still out there talking with the group and helping where I can.

“Having Shaun and Ash come in has been great for the whole squad. It creates competition for spots and forces everyone to put their best foot forward and progress their skills in that position.”

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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