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As he approaches his 13th season in the NRL, and the final one on his current Warriors deal, Shaun Johnson is eager is prove he remains best man to wear the club’s No.7 jersey and can continue to get better.

The 227-game veteran is currently without a deal for 2024 and this year has young playmakers Luke Metcalf and Ronald Volkman nipping at his heels for a spot in first grade. 

Ahead of taking on the Knights in Wellington on Friday evening, Johnson said that above all else he is determined to prove to himself and his teammates that at 32 years of age he still has plenty of good footy left in him. 

“I am driven to prove myself to them [teammates] and I’m driven to prove to myself that I still belong in this arena, and still have something to offer, because I am still getting better,” Johnson said.

“As you get a bit older you get probably a bit stronger in the head, you adjust your game, you learn to play to your strengths and what suits the team around you.

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"That might frustrate people at times, when they don’t see the highlight stuff they want to see. But for me I am continuing to learn and continuing to grow, just in different areas [than before]."

After being overlooked for the Kiwis’ World Cup campaign at the end of last year, Johnson took part in the full pre-season under new coach Andrew Webster and is down two kilograms on his 2022 playing weight.

Along with the challenges thrown his way by Webster, Johnson said being back home in Auckland has been key to ensuring a successful pre-season.

“Being around family, being able to be a dad, being able to see my mum, my dad, friends, all that stuff that you probably take for granted. That’s certainly been probably the key factor,” Johnson said.

“But then having Webby come in, challenge me, making me I guess hungry to re-establish myself back here as well.

“They are all reasons why I’ve had a good pre-season.

All I know is, I can leave this conversation here knowing I’ve given myself the best opportunity to go out there and perform for the full season.

Shaun Johnson

Meanwhile Johnson said despite being given first crack in the halves for 2023, both he and five-eighth Te Maire Martin were enjoying being kept on their toes by Volkman and Metcalf.

After starring in the club’s opening Pre-season Challenge clash, a hamstring injury is now set to keep Metcalf out for at least the first month of the competition, while Volkman is expected to line up for the club’s reserve grade side in Round 1.

“Right now I believe I am the best fit, and Te Maire is the best fit, and that’s how we are going to start, but we’re not going to rest on that,” Johnson said.  

“Ronny, he’s sharp. Lukey Metcalf is sharp. So we know we have got a good core of players there that when the time comes whoever steps into those roles will be OK.

“It’s a real competitive spine at the moment and I know certainly that’s going to get the best out of me.”

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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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