14 Jun, 2024 07:05 PM4 mins to read

Te Maire Martin and Shaun Johnson at Warriors training. Photo / Photosport

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Warriors coach Andrew Webster has allayed any fears that Shaun Johnson and Te Maire Martin can’t play together in the halves, as the pair prepare to reunite against the Melbourne Storm.

For the better part of the last month, Johnson has been an absentee for the Warriors, after suffering a pectoral injury in defeat to the Sydney Roosters.

But while losing their talisman might have impacted the club’s fortunes on the field, Johnson’s absence has only brought the best out of Martin.

In three games at halfback, Martin has assisted seven tries and scored one more, and looks to have emerged as the playmaker that the North Queensland Cowboys tipped to replace Johnathan Thurston when he retired in 2018.

Those seven try assists take Martin’s season tally to eight so far, equalling his career-best return, achieved in his one year with the Brisbane Broncos in 2022.

However, Johnson’s return threatens to downsize Martin’s influence on the Warriors’ attack, as the 28-year-old shifts back to five-eighth to accommodate last year’s Dally M halfback of the year.

Te Maire Martin. Photo / Photosport

In particular, moving out of the No 7 jersey threatens to impact Martin’s time on the ball, and shift him onto the left side of the field in order to give the reins back to Johnson.

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But for Webster, Martin’s new lease on life won’t be stymied by Johnson’s return, with the promise of the pair sharing responsibility in the bid to end a losing run against Melbourne that dates back to 2015.

“It’ll look different to what it was before he got injured,” said Webster. “Obviously, Te Maire’s been an absolute success. We’re going to balance it up so they both get to shine.

“You’ll see Te Maire touch the ball more. We’re going to balance the field, we’re going to play what we see.

“The boys have got the opportunity, if they see an opportunity, to take it. If that opportunity happens to be Shaun gets the ball, that’s how it is. If Te Maire gets the ball, that’s how it is.

“The way we’re designed to play is still going to give Te Maire an opportunity, he’s not going to be stuck out on the left.”

While there have been calls from the outside to give Johnson extra time away from playing, in order to give Martin a greater role and return to full fitness, the Warriors themselves aren’t buying it.

And while Johnson hasn’t consistently hit the heights he did in 2023, four tries and nine assists in 10 games for a player who’s battled fitness worries show the class the Warriors halfback brings.

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“You can’t neglect the type of influence he has on the group,” said fullback Charnze Nicol-Klokstad.

Shaun Johnson of the Warriors celebrates with teammates after scoring. Photo / Photosport

“Dallin [Watene-Zelezniak] said it on the weekend: there’s things that only Shaun can do.

“For him to come into the side and add to what the boys have been doing, it’s going to be really exciting.

“I can’t wait to rub shoulders again.”

Since pre-season, Johnson has battled injury woes notably in his ankle and Achilles.

But the time afforded by his pectoral injury has also allowed for his Achilles in particular to heal properly. It’s also meant he could be eased back into the club’s plans due to Martin’s form.

Johnson could have returned last week, but was afforded an extra game on the sidelines, and watched the Warriors topple the Cowboys in arguably their best win of 2024 to date.

But for Webster, his absence has allowed Martin to shine, and seen the Warriors notch three straight wins.

“There’s always a silver lining, isn’t there?” he added. “You’re forced to make decisions, and those decisions end up being the right ones.

“It gets to showcase somebody else, they’re confident, and the player returns with confidence.

“Shaun just wants to fit into what the team needs. And then you’ve got a threat [on] both sides of the field.

“It’s really cool.”

Alex Powell is an Online Sports Editor for the NZ Herald. He has been a sports journalist since 2016, and previously worked for both Newshub and 1News.

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