Shaun Johnson offers a blank canvas for potential sponsors. (Cronulla Sharks)
Shaun Johnson offers a blank canvas for potential sponsors. (Cronulla Sharks)

Johnson boasts pulling power Sharks need

If ever Cronulla needed a human billboard, it's now.

The sponsor-hungry Sharks have pulled-off a major on-and-off-field coup, by signing Kiwi Test star Shaun Johnson for the next three years.

The face of rugby league in New Zealand, Johnson put an end to the most tumultuous weeks of his career by putting pen to paper on a new multimillion-dollar deal with the Sharks on Saturday.

Alongside fiance and Silver Fern netballer, Kayla Cullen, the former Golden Boot winner had breakfast with new Cronulla teammates Wade Graham and Andrew Fifita before being given a private tour of his new home in Australia by coach Shane Flanagan.

"It's really exciting,'' Johnson said of joining the Sharks until 2021.

"Obviously it's been a really crazy few weeks, but to be able to get over here and lock it all away, I just can't wait to get stuck in.''

"All you want to do is play footy and the Sharks are a tough side, they know how to win and that's what I'm really excited to be a part of.

"I want to add value where I can and play with some experienced players, some big boys in the forward pack.

"We'll see what unfolds, but I'm really pumped to get all this locked away and bring on the new season.''

Johnson and girlfriend, netballer Kayla Cullen, get used to life in the Shire.
Johnson and girlfriend, netballer Kayla Cullen, get used to life in the Shire.

The TAB reacted immediately to Johnson's move to the Sharks by firming Cronulla's $21 premiership odds into $13.

The irony and timing of Johnson pulling on the sponsor-less Sharks jersey for the first time for photos, couldn't be missed.

In the wake of worrying administrative staff redundancies, major budget cuts, Johnson brings much more than a ready-made partnership with halfback Chad Townsend.

Clearly excited for the biggest move of his career, Johnson smiled in the brand-empty jersey, which was purposely selected instead of a neat polo.

Johnson’s ability and profile are good news for Cronulla. (Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
Johnson’s ability and profile are good news for Cronulla. (Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Having fielded calls of interest from six potential sponsors over the previous 72 hours, the jersey photo appeared to be an additional pitch by the club to self-promote the empty real estate to any interested buyers.

And by 2pm Saturday - just two hours after news broke of the discarded New Zealand Warriors signing in the Shire - the Johnson effect was already at work.

Boasting 305,000 followers on Instagram - second only to Sam Burgess for most followers in the NRL - Johnson's post announcing his move to Cronulla had received 21,000 likes.

Ultimately though, Johnson told Graham and Fifita over eggs and coffee his decision to link with Cronulla is based on taking his game to a new level, having failed to secure an elusive premiership with the Warriors.

Using the salary cap space made available from the unexpected departure of star fullback Valentine Holmes, the Sharks believe they can win another premiership with Johnson's addition to the squad.

His arrival will almost certainly shift 2018 five-eighth Matt Moylan to fullback with Johnson and Townsend, or rising star Kyle Flanagan, to combine in the halves.

Overlooked by many during the Sharks pursuit of Johnson too, is that they have also accrued a goalkicker who can takeover from Holmes.

Flanagan said he was delighted that Johnson had chosen to commit to the club.

The loss of Valentine Holmes doesn’t hurt so much now. (Brett Costello)
The loss of Valentine Holmes doesn’t hurt so much now. (Brett Costello)

"Shaun is obviously a world-class player,'' Flanagan said.

"Offensively especially, he'll add a new dimension to our attack as a running number six.

"We've already spoken about how in our side, he won't have do everything himself - he just has to do his job.

"He also spoke about how excited he is to play behind our forward pack, with the likes of Fifita, Woods, Prior Gallen, Graham, and Bukuya.

"As a club, we're thrilled to see him in the Sharks jersey.''

Johnson, who was a member of the Kiwis recent tour to England, is expected to commence official pre-season training with the Sharks after Christmas.

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