Andrew Webster has done the unthinkable in his first season as Warriors coach, leading them to the top four after rejuvenating the club’s talisman Shaun Johnson.
The veteran halfback’s career was in the balance during the 2022 season, with club legends calling for the 32-year-old to retire a year before his contract was due to end.
Spending time away from home in the club’s Redcliffe base during Covid took a toll on the Warriors players and it was clear they were itching to return home.
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With a full pre-season across the Tasman, surrounded by family and friends, Johnson has flourished and is among the favourites to win the Dally M Medal this season.
For Webster, he could see a player that still had a lot to give before taking over at the Warriors and explained how he got the best out of the halfback in a sit-down chat with Fox League’s Jake Duke.
“I always felt like key indicators for Shauny over his whole career were if he was happy off the field and things were going good, then he was going to play good football,” Webster said.
“You could say that about every single human being that if they’re happy in their lives, then they’ll work well but I think it has a bigger impact on some and it’s a big deal being away from your family.
“I just thought there was signs last year that everyone told me he was slow and they were just acting like he was 100 years old, not in his early 30s.
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“I saw him play his first game back here at home [against the Knights] and to me there was an indication to me that he had a lot to offer still. He just needed to be a bit happier away from the game.”
Attack has always been the hallmark of Johnson’s game and his dazzling footwork is synonymous will the Warriors as a club.
However, this season Johnson has taken his playmaking skills to a new level and almost always seems to make the right pass or put the right player in space.
Webster explained that a lot of the club’s pre-season was spent working out how to unlock Johnson’s capabilities and to work to his strengths.
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“He’s been our general and he’s got the team around and he’s got his fingerprints all over it. I think you mature every year,” Webster said.
“I think you realise what doesn’t work for you and what doesn’t work for the team and if we get to a particular point of the field, everyone needs to know what sort of shape they need to fall into for Shaun.
“There’s a lot of things going around that just allow Shaun to be that creative guy that he can turn and talk to the team and it’s important that they’re already where he needs them.
“I think that’s been the biggest difference. They know where to be for him when he needs them. When he turns and asks for the play, they’re already ahead of it.”
Another aspect of Webster’s short tenure that went unnoticed is his lack of recruitment when he joined the club.
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Since the Warriors announced Webster would make the move from the Panthers on July 8 2022, the 41-year-old only made a single signing in five-eighth Te Maire Martin.
The rest of the club’s 2023 recruits, including Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Mitch Barnett and Marata Niukore, were all signed prior to that date.
Although, with Nicoll Klokstad’s announcement being released two days before Webster’s, it’s fair to say he would have had a say in his recruitment.
When he arrived at the club, Webster is said to have called every single player and told them they were wanted and would be a part of the club’s plans.
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He also told club powerbrokers he didn’t need to recruit anyone else and explained why it was important to put his faith in the current squad — which has paid dividends.
“When change happens it scares people and when you’re scared of something and you’re unsure of something, how can you actually produce your best work?” Webster asked.
“Sometimes that’s the best thing for people but I wanted them to know that I wanted them here and I wanted to give them every opportunity to get better and be a success.
“I wanted them to know I was on board with them and if I had that belief in them they’d start believing in themselves.
“I said in 12 months’ time we’ll see where that takes us. I think our retention and players that we want to keep at the club is a no-brainer at the moment and the majority of those guys will be here next year.”