Why Shaun Johnson could reach his NRL peak with Cronulla, and win the Dally M Medal
Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/news/111626643/-

2019-03-31 22:50:12

ANALYSIS: The old firm have moved on and the Dally M medal is there for the taking - if Shaun Johnson is up to it.

Every divorce has a winner and a loser, especially in rugby league.

And after three rounds of NRL action, Johnson's former teammates are frantically searching for answers after back-to-back thrashings as pressure begins to build.

And while they do that, the mercurial half is living up life as a Shark.

Johnson has been at his attacking best recently, laying on five tries in two weeks as Cronulla begin to find their groove as a unit.

His flair was on full display against the Cowboys on Saturday who had no answer for the former golden boot winner, playing with new-found confidence and in a rich vein of form to open his 2019 campaign.

But just how far could Johnson carry this form? well, why not all the way to the Dally M podium, in September.

The stars could finally be aligning for Johnson, a player who at his peak is widely regarded as one of the best in the game, though his best has too often been few and far between.

But that was in a Warriors jumper.

Johnson is now a Shark, joining a side who many tipped pre-season as top four contenders - and that was prior to his arrival.

Now playing along side the likes of Josh Dugan, Josh Morris, Matt Moylan, Andrew Fifita and Chad Townsend, Johnson has been able to relax and play his game, without having the pressure of a whole country relying on him to pull out signature magic tricks week in week out.

If Johnson can sustain some level of consistency, he should be among the short price favourites for the coveted award - especially when considering his competition.

Gone are the days when the Dally M medal was alternated between the big four: Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston.

Thurston and Slater have retired, Cronk is struggling with injury and father time looks to be finally slowing down superman Smith.

So who does that leave?

Well, last year's winner and Warriors skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has to be in the conversation.

In a struggling side, RTS has continued where he left off last year, despite being a one-man-band in recent weeks, and continues to dazzle.

Melbourne's Cameron Munster is favoured by bookmakers in Australia and has impressed so far this season.

But outside of Munster and Tuivasa-Sheck, the list of contenders gets a little thin.

Young-gun Kalyn Ponga, who finished second in voting last year, is struggling to adjust to life as a five-eighth.

NSW Blues fullback James Tedesco has had decent start to his 2019 campaign, without being great, and 2017 Dally M winner Jason Taumalolo suffered a serious knee injury last week that could see him miss up to 10 weeks.

Roosters' half Luke Keary could be in with a shot, though is such a star-studded side like Sydney it's sometimes harder to shine.

It might be unpopular analysis, but the reality is if Johnson keeps playing like he has over the past few weeks, the door is ajar for the Kiwi half to finally live up to those lofty heights mooted throughout his career.

Johnson won the golden boot award in 2014, but has never ran particularly close to picking up the Dally M.

That could all be about to change in 2019.

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