Shaun Johnson is enjoying the love from Warriors fans again and the star playmaker has revealed that he didn’t realise how emotional he would feel about it.
While Johnson is anticipating the Warriors' home-coming match in July to provide an atmosphere like he has never experienced at club level, the reaction of fans in the grandstand at Moreton Daily Stadium took him by surprise after last Saturday's match against Brisbane.
It was just Johnson’s second appearance for the Warriors after spending the previous three seasons at the Sharks and the 31-year-old said he had tried to put aside any thoughts about his return to the club in round one.
However, the Kiwis international could not shut out the emotion after helping to steer the Warriors to a 20-6 win - his first since re-joining the club where he begun his career and had previously spent eight seasons calling the on-field shots.
“When I was walking over, I just saw the crowd start to stand up and I didn’t know if it was at me,” Johnson said. “Then I just put my hand ups and just gave them a clap, and they went off.
“I was just like ‘far out’. It’s like these are the people I have got a connection to, and the people who are why I wanted to come back and play, and the people I want to represent while I wear this jersey.
“That is no disrespect to Cronulla or any other club … but to me it just means more wearing this jersey. Just being a Kiwi boy, growing up all I wanted to do was wear this jersey and play for this club.
“Having been able to do that and experience the love and support and passion … that is all that moment was on Saturday. Feeling that again for the first time.”
It was also the first time that he had played alongside Reece Walsh as the teen sensation was suspended in round one, and then Johnson suffered a pectoral muscle injury that sidelined him for two weeks.
The time on the sidelines enabled Johnson to watch the Warriors and when he returned against the Broncos he had a better understanding of how he could best combine with Walsh, five-eighth Chanel Harris-Tavita, hooker Wayde Egan and star utility Kodi Nikorima.
Match Highlights: Warriors v Broncos
“The club didn’t sign me back here to be the hot stepper, highlights reel player,” he said.
"I believe they signed me because I can add a sense of calmness to the group and a bit of experience in a crucial area, so I didn’t come back here wanting to be that player.
“I came here wanting to be the player I was for the last three years at the Sharks, that’s giving the players around me a bit of confidence and steering the ship.
“Certainly, having weapons like Walshy, Kodi, Chanel and players like that around me, allows me to do that role. You’ve got to have multiple threats and I think we’ve got that here and we’re continuing to figure out how we can best utilise it.”
At just 19 years-of-age, Walsh is seen as a superstar in the making and Johnson urged the Warriors to ensure he was signed on a long-term deal.
Whilst ever Walsh is at the Warriors, Johnson will act as a mentor for him.
“There’s been a lot of hype around him and I’m trying to add my value where I can for him,” Johnson said.
“I’ve walked similar shoes to what he’s going through right now. I don’t think I was as silky or as skilful as what he is, but that rise into first grade, it happened pretty quick as well, so I’m trying to help him understand the game in different areas.
“Then on the other hand, it’s refreshing for me to see him attack with so much flair and be carefree. If he sees what he believes is a mis-match for him, he wants to attack everything, so we’re both helping each other out there.”
Walsh is one of 10 players named for Friday night's match against North Queensland who have never played for the club at Mt Smart Stadium as the Warriors have been in Australia since the start of the 2020 season.
Johnson said it was almost impossible to describe to them what the atmosphere will be like when the team finally returns home for the July 3 clash with Wests Tigers.
“I know that I won’t have experienced an atmosphere like what we are going to experience there in a couple of months in the eight years I had at the club previously," he said.
"You think about that and it is just going to be a moment in my career and a lot of boys’ careers that we will never ever forget. We would like to win some footy games and hit home with a bit of momentum to get the crowd really excited about our return."