Looking into his daughter's eyes as she scanned the 24,000 screaming fans who filled Go Media Stadium last Sunday, Shaun Johnson experienced a new career highlight.
Days on from inking a new one-year deal with the Warriors, Johnson had the chance to carry two-year-old Millah out onto the field with him ahead of the 44-12 victory over the Sharks in Round 20, as he was recognised for reaching 200 games for the club a week prior.
The 32-year-old couldn't help but be moved by Millah's reaction to the reception, which came two days after he and wife Kayla celebrated the arrival of their second daughter, Sachi.
"It's a feeling I couldn't really wrap my head around. When I saw [Millah] looking at the crowd, I was like 'what's going on, what is this, why am I getting so much joy out of this?'," Johnson said.
"Being able to share that moment with her and see her eyes light up, when she gets to see what it looks like for me to walk out there. Kayla was at home with our little one and she had a little tear just wishing she could have been there.
It is those sorts of moments that as you get older in your career you certainly value, it just makes it so special.Shaun Johnson
"A week I will never experience again in my life... it certainly feels [surreal]."
Being back home with his young family – after spending most of last year based in Australia with the squad due to the pandemic – has been central to Johnson enjoying one of the best seasons of his career so far in 2023.
It's also a key reason for wanting to go around again next year, alongside the enjoyment he is getting from playing under coach Andrew Webster as part of an in-form side, which is now attracting near capacity crowds at home games on a regular basis.
Heading into Friday's clash against the Raiders at Go Media Stadium the Warriors sit just two points back from the Telstra Premiership's top four.
Match: Warriors v Raiders
Round 21 -
Venue: Go Media Stadium, Auckland
"Certainly winning is a lot more enjoyable than losing. I would say this though, even the losses we have had this year, there's been that element of enjoyment there," Johnson said.
"I can't say it's completely on the results making me want to come back, because I feel the whole process that delivers that 80-minute performance each week is the bit that I'm really enjoying.
"That enjoyment factor and being part of something special, creating something special, is the main driver.
UFC stars on hand to celebrate Johnson's 200th
"On the weekend [against the Sharks] you see me carrying on a bit to the crowd, that's only because it hasn't always been like that.... we have got twenty odd thousand here every week and it's amazing, but I remember when we didn't have that.
"I have been lucky enough to play all over the world in some pretty cool stadiums, but honestly nothing beats that, it really doesn't.
"It's special for all of us and we all deserve to celebrate it and enjoy it."