Warriors star Shaun Johnson has ruled himself out of the New Zealand squad for the upcoming Pacific Championships but insists the Kiwis will still have a strong team without him.
Johnson, who was pipped at the post by Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga for the NRL Dally M Medal, received the halfback of the year award and was expected to revive his international career in the series against Samoa and Australia.
The 2014 Golden Boot winner admitted he was ready to quit the game at the end of last season but is now looking forward to 2024 and he hasn’t ruled out playing for the Kiwis in the future.
“I am going to take a bit of time off,” Johnson said. “The Kiwis are going to be fine. It is not a World Cup year.
“Where I am at, after the season I have had, I really feel like I do need a break.
“I don’t ever turn down the opportunity to represent New Zealand, and I think a lot of people who know me know that, so this was a very hard decision but it is one that I am very comfortable with, and I am just going to enjoy some time with my family."
Melbourne’s Jahrome Hughes and Parramatta’s Dylan Brown were the Kiwis halves at last year’s World Cup, with Johnson’s 32-Test international career appearing to be over after he was overlooked for the New Zealand squad.
However, the 33-year-old enjoyed arguably the best season of his career as he led the rejuvenated Warriors to a preliminary final under rookie coach Andrew Webster.
“Last year I was done. I was ready to call it quits,” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘this isn’t what I remember rugby league to be’, and then in pre-season I was like, ‘who knows’.
Ponga pips Johnson in Round 26 to claim 2023 Dally M Medal
“The Warriors never promised me anything but they said ‘if I performed, let’s talk’. I was okay that I might not be signing on for another year at the Warriors. It was a reality.
“The season played out the way it did so Webby said you have got to come back for one more and we can re-evaluate then as well.
“I never want to overstay my welcome but right now I feel like I am in a really good place, and it would be silly not to see where that can take us next year.”
While disappointed to be edged out by Ponga, Johnson said the Knights captain was a worthy winner and he took consolation from being one of three Warriors in the NRL team of the year – along with prop Addin Fonua-Blake and winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Webster was named NRL coach of the year, while Tohu Harris and Wayde Egan were finalists for captain of the year and hooker of the year.
“I thought Kalyn had a great year, he was the centrepiece of the Knights when they went on their run and he really stepped up,” Johnson said.
If there was a person I thought was going to get it, it was him. He had a great year.
“I am really happy with my year. After where I was 12 months ago this is honestly a very proud moment for my family, my partner, my team-mates – they are the ones who know just how hard I have worked to get myself in this position.
“It was a special night for the club. I thought Wayde was unlucky, I thought Tohu was unlucky, and I thought Charnze [Nicoll-Klokstad] was unlucky not to even be here with us.
“We have got a group of players who can really take this club forward, not one individual and that is what it is going to take for us to go to the next step.”