Johnson sends halves market into overdrive
SHAUN Johnson's immediate release from his New Zealand Warriors contract is set to launch the NRL halves market into overdrive.
The official release of the veteran Warrior came just hours after St George Illawarra captain Gareth Widdop had reportedly asked for a release from his contract at the Dragons at some point in the future, however he's believed to be committed at least until the end of 2019.
Cronulla had been favoured to secure Johnson's signature having recently released star fullback Valentine Holmes to pursue a career in the NFL.
However Widdop's potential release, to which homesickness is believed to be the major factor, could bring the Dragons into contention to sign Johnson in the future.
Here are the clubs set to be impacted by the playmaking merry-go-round.
The make-up of Cronulla's spine come round one is anyone's guess with Shane Flanagan gifted multiple options to cover for the departed Holmes.
If as rumoured they are to sign Johnson, he would partner Chad Townsend in the halves with Matt Moylan to return to fullback.
If Johnson seeks a future elsewhere, Shane Flanagan has the option of blooding son Kyle in the halves alongside Townsend, with Moylan to remain at number one.
The alternative move is to keep the Townsend/Moylan halves combination that took Cronulla to last year's semi-final, with either Josh Dugan or youngster William Kennedy to fill the void at the back.
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS
It didn't turn too many heads at the time, but the Warriors will be lamenting the decision to release talented playmaker Mason Lino to Newcastle for the upcoming season.
Lino has been Johnson's understudy across the Tasman for several years, with his progression earning him several quality starts last season.
The current squad look strapped for replacement options to partner Blake Green, which suggests they're well-placed to swoop on a rival halfback.
Parramatta pairing of Mitchell Moses and Corey Norman have been strongly linked to a switch to New Zealand for some time.
Although speculative, don't be surprised if either man is the next major movement on the market.
As it stands, playmakers Adam Keighran or Chanel Harris-Tavita appear next in line to earn NRL debuts alongside Green.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
The key cog in the entire halves market revolves around Widdop who is reported to want out of his contract despite having three years to run on it.
It's believed Widdop is committed to the club at least until the end of 2019, at which point he's considering heading back to the UK.
Should Widdop leave, the Red V will have a war chest to launch in the direction of Johnson.
In the event they sign Johnson, little would change in the roster with the former Warrior to slot straight into Widdop's role at five-eighth.
Should Paul McGregor fail to sign Johnson or another replacement five-eighth, the Dragons will have the choice of promoting promising youngster Jai Field or the more senior Darren Nicholls into the starting side.
At just 21, Field is the option with plenty of upside, however he's failed to win over McGregor in his five NRL appearances to date.
Despite this, he'd be the more favoured of the pair to partner Ben Hunt in the halves.
Parramatta look as though they could be significantly impacted by the halves chaos, however as it stands they have Moses and Norman contracted to the club.
Should either depart with the club failing to sign a replacement, Jaemon Salmon would come into contention to start following his five appearances in 2018.
Canberra have largely denied they've got the cap space available to pursue Johnson, however it's expected they'll be considering all options to lure the superstar to the nation's capital.
Speculation suggests Kieran Foran will follow mentor Des Hasler to Manly, a move that would lock in recruit Jack Cogger and Lachlan Lewis as Canterbury's halves in 2019.
While the Dogs are desperate for a gun playmaker, their dire salary cap situation would likely rule them out of pursuing any major signings in the halves.
While Kodi Nikorima and Anthony Milford are contracted at Brisbane for the upcoming season, their recent troubles in the halves could spur the immediate interest of club officials.
Cameron Munster's delayed announcement on his future has been a curious case over the off-season, his decision will be further clouded with the current movements.
Adding further intrigue to the 2020 market is the fact Cooper Cronk is expected to call time on his career at the end of his current deal at the Sydney Roosters expiring next season.
Should Johnson sign a one-year deal in 2019, the Roosters could earmark Johnson as an instant swap with initial target Nathan Cleary likely to remain in Penrith with dad Ivan.