AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 27: Shaun Johnson of the Warriors looks on during the round 25 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Manly Sea Eagles at Mt Smart Stadium on August 27, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

Regardless of how good you are, you’re always going to have something that doubts you’re capacities. And even though you reach the highest of levels and manage to play in the National Rugby League, you always need to prove that you’re worthy of it.

The NRL features the best league players from across the world and everybody expects a lot from the “star” players that they’ve come to know.

(This is part two of a three-part series)

RELATED: NRL 2018: Players with a point to prove (Part 1)

Shaun Johnson (NZ Warriors)

The fleet-footed Kiwi international led his Warriors side onto the big stage in his rookie season. Shaun Johnson idolised and inspiring, left Warriors fans marvelling at what the future might hold.

That was seven years ago, and although we’ve seen glimpses of his best, Johnson has been consistently let down by the players around him. There’s no doubting Johnson, however, the New Zealand rugby league community haven’t yet seen their team participate in a finals series since 2011.

Johnson recently agreed to a new two-year deal. A fresh start, Johnson has the chance to utilise his potential to perhaps reinvigorate New Zealand rugby league, with a number of new signings on board.

It’s a new-looking Warriors outfit, but will it be enough for Johnson to work around? Often criticised, Johnson has a solid opportunity this season. The question is, will he take it with both hands?

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Ben Hunt (St George Illawarra Dragons)

In five long years, Ben Hunt will still run out the sheds with the Red V.

What faith that Paul McGregor has installed, but will Ben Hunt return the favour? With a single signature, Ben Hunt ultimately became the Dragon’s first ever multi-millionaire. A six-million dollar deal, will Hunt be crushed by the weight of expectation.

He needs to justify his worth and has to ensure the Dragons that they made the correct decision to recruit the Origin star. There were indistinct patches of his best last season, most notably during the back-end of the season, striving for the hooker position.

It’s a new era in Rugby League, and it’s time for Hunt, to create a legacy of his own. We’ve seen his best at Brisbane, but can he showcase what to expect in the next half-decade in Wollongong?

Josh Reynolds (Wests Tigers)

Who would have thought Belmore’s favourite son Josh Reynolds would even fathom calling another club home? The homegrown local junior’s departure caught the rugby league community by surprise.

The self-proclaimed one-club man made the hardest decision of his life. To announce to those close to him that he’s leaving the only club he’s ever known. Ivan Cleary’s offer was clearly too good to refuse, and it may well result in a drastic culture change at Leichhardt.

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We all saw how Reynolds did wonders for the players that he would surround and played part in forging a formidable culture within Belmore. Perhaps it’s the factor that’s prevented Wests to develop, culture.

The Tigers have produced some of the best players in the game right now, however, they haven’t been able to chance their arm. Although Josh Reynolds isn’t the most skilled player, his passion and grunt are exactly what Wests needs.

He has the capability of changing the environment around him, and he’ll want to prove to Canterbury, that his presence will be sorely missed. Reynolds will also need to grind back into the Origin arena, and with a young and talented halves partner in Luke Brookes, and the influence of veteran Benji Marshall, there’s no stopping the man they call ‘grub’.

54 COMMENTS

      • SSTID_1970. I am interested to know your thoughts on the last 3 games of Lichaa last year. He appeared to show a good running game when the leash came off. I understand that your major area of concern is his ball distribution. However, there have been any number of hookers that had predominantly speed as their advantage. The quick sniping runs out of dummy half, especially close to the try line. Could he not just be another of these style of hookers ??

        • Yes, I would like to know the same thing but ignorance is seeping in. He was finally let loose and look at the result: he was nothing short of brilliant. He looked like a whole different player and he was also brilliant in the World Cup campaign for Lebanon. I have said this before and I will say it again. His distribution from dummy half was shoddy because he was gassed making every tackle all game because of how he was told to play by Des. He was instructed to be involved in every tackle and he would tire out. Now, things will be different with him being able to take a little bit of a back seat in defence and will be able to save energy because it was all expended on making way more tackles than anybody else. He’s always been a talent and it was evident from his junior days at the Sharks where he was an attacking weapon.. people are just clueless these days.

        • @ Jonno

          Jonno a hookers running game is secondary to their bread and butter role of providing quality and reliable service from dummy half. Without this a teams attack falls to pieces. I can remember on many occasions (and one in particular) where Lichaa’s sloppy service from dummy half cost the Dogs on the fifth tackle 10 metres out from the line with an overlap and the defence on the rack and he simply could not pass the halves the ball.

          I remember both Reynolds and Mbye blowing up at the missed opportunity. All players are human, mistakes can happen. But they should be few and far between. The problem with Lichaa is that there is more consistency with his bad passes than with his good ones. I have noticed he particularly has difficulty passing the ball left to right. Long passes in either direction are also a challenge. To be frank, he couldn’t hit an elephant with his long passes. He CAN run the ball and pass short passes right to left. What does that suggest to you? Perhaps left edge back rower? He can even be given a license to run the ball from dummy half (like Rapana with the Raiders) when the opportunity arises but the Dogs need someone with a dependable passing game (and preferably a kicking game) at dummy half.

          For the life of me I cannot understand why the Dogs did not give Craig Garvey more of an opportunity, he didn’t look half bad when he had enough time on the field. Lichaa could have played as a loose forward and taken the occasional run from dummy half. Lichaa’s defence is sound and he can run with the ball but he cannot pass reliably and that is a fail mark for any hooker.

          Remember it is NOT just the poor service from dummy half that is the problem but Lichaa’s decision making, particularly under pressure, where he can lose the plot. He has run the ball on fifth tackle a number of times without realising it was even the last tackle. That is another prerequisite for any hooker, Jonno. They need to be able to count to 5. 😉

        • I’m a bit more neutral, to negative, on Lichaa.

          He showed he can add something to the Doggies attack in the last few rounds with some runs out of dummy half. I can’t fault that, but at the same time it was so unexpected last year that it caught the defence napping, to an extent at least.

          His passes are average, I don’t think he has a kicking game (I didn’t watch many Doggies games, but I can’t recall any kicks), and I would have called his defence average.
          “making way more tackles than anybody else”. I certainly didn’t see that. I would have thought that title was Jake Friend’s, but like I said I didn’t watch many Doggies games.

          All that being said, I know he’s got potential, but I wouldn’t be getting too excited just yet.

        • @ CBB4ver

          Time for some “tough love” once again CBB4ver.

          Being gassed is an excuse that any hooker in the game can make for poor service from dummy half. Do you think for one second that Lichaa gets through more tackles and does more work around the field than Cameron Smith? No, Lichaa’s passes go astray right from the kick off when fatigue is never an excuse. What about the times Lichaa has run the ball on last tackle, or passed the ball to a decoy runner by mistake on last tackle, or passed the ball 1 – 2 metres in front, behind, above, below the ball runner? No, Lichaa is not a hooker, even if he is the best running dummy half in the game in 2018 (which is highly doubtful) he will still come out on the wrong side of the ledger if he cannot provide quality and consistent service from dummy half. It really is not that difficult a task if you have the skill set, the composure and the willingness to learn and work hard to improve. How long has Lichaa had to improve his passing game now? Isn’t this his fourth year now at the Dogs?

          I think the Dogs spine is already suspect and more in need of a chiropractor than a coach. Mbye at FB is a good move, Cleeland is an unknown and a rookie, an NRL debutante, while Frawley is only so, so. Meanwhile Foran has only played 26 games out of 52 in the last 2 seasons and it is yet to be seen if his off-field dramas are now behind him. He is still an unknown as far as I can tell and just as likely to go MIA during a game or AWOL during the season. The saving factor for Foran was his old trusted mentor and coach Des Hasler but now Des is gone and so is Foran’s lifeline to the past and the security of the familiar.

          Now Foran has to work with a new coach who does not know him and who will be less understanding and sympathetic and more likely to believe in tough love than offering a shoulder to cry on. Pay is determined to reinstate the old “Dogs of War” mentality that will not tread softly around egos or players that cannot suck it up and roll up their sleeves.

          Now throw in the cherry on the top, Lichaa. We have had the same discussion for the last 2 years mate. What has changed? If you think that Des was the reason that Lichaa could not pass a ball, keep track of the tackle count or make decisions under pressure from dummy half I think you are mistaken. If you think that Lichaa’s running game will be the answer to the Dogs woes let’s see how long Dean Pay persists with him if his poor service from dummy half starts costing the team competition points.

        • That was quick mighty, you managed to be the meat in the sandwich between my 2 posts. Lichaa’s defence is improving where his passing game is not and his kicking game is non-existent. His decision making under pressure is yet another reason why this kid needs a change of position. I used to think that Lichaa, like Mitch Rein had missed his calling and could have been an exceptional reserve grader but now I do believe Lichaa is a solid first grader but playing out of position.

        • SSTID, I do remember Mybe blowing up, which is not something you see every day, but I don’t actually recall Reynolds blowing up, but that’s probably because that is something you see every (minute of the ) day.

          I can still remember Lichaa’s expression on that occasion. It was a “MasterCard” moment, priceless. He seemed genuinely surprised one of his halves would actually want the ball.

        • SSTID, trust me mate, it’s not me being quick when it comes to typing responses. I was squirrelling away on my response well before seeing yours (and not because I as expecting MW to be reading it).

          That said, we seem to be on similar pages on this one.

        • I remember the moment too and it I believe it had more to do with “was THAT last tackle? I had no idea. Now they might realise I can’t count!” Yes Reynolds has blown up at Lichaa on several occasions and given him death stares more times than that. What people are not thinking about is the fact that Lichaa has struggled at hooker for 3 years now and that was with a reasonably consistent spine and the same coach and a playing style he was familiar with. Now Lichaa, with all his deficiencies and shortcomings has to get used to a new coach, a new playing style, not just one but TWO new halves and a player he is used to seeing in the halves running out wide. The tackle count is still the same, so that should help, but as for the rest I fear it will prove too much for Lichaa to cope with especially having to pass left to right under pressure and without James Graham to help him shift the ball quickly to the outside backs.

      • Lichaa was excellent in the final rounds and will continue to build a great end to the year, silly if people think otherwise, you dont play like that and suddenly fall off the earth. And ball distribution is not a major issue as long as the ball gets to the man it doesnt matter. Jake Granville is one of the best hookers in the game and his ball distribution is horrible.

        • “ball distribution is not a major issue as long as the ball gets to the man it doesnt matter”

          But it DOESN’T get to the intended man holmsey. THAT is the point. What exactly about the two posts of mine above do you disagree with?

          “Jake Granville is one of the best hookers in the game and his ball distribution is horrible”

          Is it though holmsey? I don’t think it was in 2015 at least if I remember correctly.

          “silly if people think otherwise”

          So if YOUR opinions are out of left field and seem bizarre to others that is OK and you are still entitled to YOUR opinion. So am I silly holmsey? Do you REALLY want to go there?

        • Players don’t play good then suddenly fall off the earth , DCE played good in 2013 then fell off the plant ! Uranus ! And landed back on Uranus

        • I didn’t know that Uranus was a plant. Now the Venus fly trap is a plant but Venus is also a planet, like Uranus (which smells like sulfur), Venus NOT Uranus. Pluto on the other hand used to be a planet but Neil deGrasse Tyson wanted to make a name for himself and demoted poor little Pluto to the status of a dwarf. Grumpy was not Happy I can tell you but Pluto only wanted to be with Mickey so it all ended well in the end. Did I miss your point? Sorry.

        • SSTID

          1st point The ball does get to the intended man! How wouldnt it? He suddenly in his head on last tackles says to himself lets throw it to the winger and make him kick? Doesnt seem logical, while it may not be on the chest of the player is does get to them.

          2nd point Granville was and still isnt the best passer of the footy but he makes up for it in other areas as does lichaa, one flaw in a players game does not render them a bad player.

          3rd point And yes it is silly because it has no logic behind, you believe his end of year was it just a phase or something.

          You go around telling everyone on this site that you are a god of knowledge in rugby league yet some of your knowledge isnt all that clear.

        • What is silly holmsey are your ill-informed comments. Study the game before you set yourself up as an expert. I have a detailed argument on Lichaa’s failings as a dummy half while you have a brief response with no detail or depth. That’s you to a tea holmsey. Backline movements not only break down if a pass goes to ground. It can go to “the intended man” and arrive too late, or be misdirected and be delivered too far in front or behind the intended receiver or too low or too high causing them to stop or change direction causing the player to lose momentum and be overrun by his support players. Are you getting this holmsey or do you need pictures?

          Are you capable if this level of in depth analysis or do you just liike to run off at the mouth and say whatever cones to mind without first giving it some thought?

          So I’m silly then holmsey? Right, don’t expect any support from me in future when you are called similar for some of your absurd suggestions. Time to grow up holmsey or join a site more in keeping with your own age group.

        • my point exactly SSTID , his expert analysis on every aspect of the game has absolutely no substance, placement, timing are crucial to playing this game , how can he suggest Granville has a poor passing game when Nth Qld have been a top 3 side since 2015?
          His bias towards the club he supports which happens to be the same club I support is immature to say the least , it’s not treason to highlight your teams deficiencies, I will continue to signal him out especially when he makes these ridiculous statements

        • Holmsey,question why in your book is API a better hooker than Granville? What does API do that Granville doesn’t ? I’m curious to know how well you understand the mechanics of how RL works

        • Api has better service from dummy half than Lichaa and is a more accurate passer of the football and half the time he doesn’t even look! When fit Granville has been one of the best dummy halves in the game in the last couple of years (running and passing the football). I guess we just see things differently. I see things as they are while you see them as you would like them to be. There is just no way to reason with someone who has none.

        • Again you two old folks telling me Im wrong and have no clue. Ive got more of a clue than either of you, I no this from experience, dont need to prove that to you two, I currently play with a hooker who isnt a great passer of the footy but it does not wreck the way our team plays at all. SSTID you and your lap dog can keep giving me sprays, just the other day I said I was ready to move yet both of yiu decided to attack me on posts I made.

        • Holmsey, you wouldn’t dare refer to me as a dog in company so don’t get all heroic behind a keyboard, maybe your “hooker” can’t pass the ball yet but are you going to compare the under 15’s comp you play in to that of NRL standard ? Furthermore I’ve told you on more than one occasion but you are to immature to debate without insulting, your everything I’ve stated ! Go join pony club , if you can’t debate the ridiculous statements that continuously pour from your keyboard them maybe you need to do what you did last year and leave , cry baby

        • I would call you a dog in person because that is what you are on here, you havent earnt any respect from and why would you? Your main job on this site is to be a key board warrior dog and attack me on every post. Get a life old man.

        • “you havent earnt any respect”

          Like..

          “you two old folks” and “Get a life old man”

          Thanks for setting the standard for respect and maturity holmsey once again. I haven’t called you any names have I?

          You are a waste of my time. You never change and bring trouble upon yourself with your big mouth and narrow minded superficial observations. I’m done with you.

        • If a hookers delivery of the ball to the first receiver isn’t important then why oh why is a quick play the ball so critical?
          You amateur little man , Might not be so important in your Under 15’s little man but it’s crucial at NRL standard

        • @ MW47

          An important and very relevant question that is worthy of an answer. Surely for someone who has so much to say about the game this should be “child’s play”. Still water run deep but a shallow brook babbles the loudest.

  1. Lichaa was crap last year but only because he was playing to the style he was instructed to by the coach.
    Once Des got shafted, Lichaa was allowed to play his natural game and it was a massive turn around.
    I tell you know I wouldn’t be complaining if we signed him.

    • Even Donkey (IDG) could pass the ball Kev. He always understood the difference between the carrot and the stick and he could count to 5. He never got confused when last tackle was. Only a Jackass is unable to count to 5 and that is worse than a donkey. At least a donkey works hard but a Jackass also makes bad movies.

      • Lichaa problem alot of the time with ball distribution is that he is gassed from covering alot in defence.All the better hookers generally have good defending packs

  2. SSTID_1970. Thank you for such a detailed and well considered post on my question regarding Lichaa. I understand and respect your opinion, but I will have to agree to disagree.

    • Fair enough. There will be no more excuses for Lichaa if he fails to perform in 2018. This is his 4th year in the role.

    • Jonno , it’s not like that , you should be kicking and screaming , your opinion was disrespected , you need to harden up mate !

      • The “angry eagle” is being ironic Jonno. It’s his way of giving it to holmsey by reminding him there are more mature ways to settle a difference of opinion as you have shown.

  3. My take on the whole Lichaa “saga”. I agree that his service from dummy half is poor and is a major blight on his game. The primary role of a dummy half is to provide good, clean, quick service. That means passes must reach their intended player on their chest, not near the ground, not over their head, not behind them, at least the majority of the time. What I will say though, is that Lichaa biggest strength, going back to his time at the Sharks, was his dummy half running. This disappeared under Des’ game plan, until the end of 2017, when he was let off the leash.

    I still think Lichaa can become a quality hooker, passing can be learned (I admit that it should be learned before reaching first grade though). If I was a Bulldogs supporter I would be excited to see what he can bring in 2018 without the shackles, but I would only be prepared to give him one more season to at least show signs of fixing his passing game.

    • Josh Reynolds should have been the Dogs hooker with Mbye at FB and the Dogs ahould have gone all out to secure Cronk. Cronk and Foran (in form and motivated) would have been a formidable combination.

      The Dogs still lack bite up front for mine with only Klemmer and Jackson as the only quality forwards in their pack. As you know I believe Woods is overrated and does not play with any fire or passion unlike Klemmer, Graham and Reynolds. It’s like trying to turn a big, hairy, slobbering St. Bernard into a “Dog of War”. It just isn’t in it’s genetic makeup.

      1. Mbye
      6. Foran
      7. Cronk
      9. J. Reynolds

      Now THAT is a first class spine!

      • That would have made sense, but unfortunately for whatever reason Des seemed unable to change his ways as a coach. It may have kept Reynolds at the Dogs too, which is a massive loss I believe.

        As for Woods, I agree he is over rated, but I think he is still a good first grade player and is a metre eater. What I don’t like is how he constantly backs into the defence, and yes, he has a distinct lack of aggression, for him to be the one who fronted the media to discuss Pay wanting to go back to the “Dogs of War” was laughable. I think his role at the Dogs should just be take the first or second hit up, but he needs to face forward to give himslef the best chance of a quick play the ball. The problem is though that they have shelled out $1M to get him, which is overs for a prop in any case, let alone one who doesn’t have a full skill set. What I will say is I don’t want to see him in another NSW jersey, but for whatever reason, he is a favourite and will be picked again.

        P.S MW47, this isn’t an invitation to restart our previous “run in” on Woods 😉

      • Let it go MW47. It’s like getting Rainman to take out your trash. If he didn’t get it the first time it doesn’t matter how many times you repeat yourself it isn’t going to get through. You will only end up wearing yourself out and confusing him until he has fit… AGAIN!

  4. Here we go.. Johnson is apart of an underperforming team, has been for years. He has the talent to succeed but he needs to leave and find a new team just to get out that potential, its the same with RTS, moved from Bondi and just failed to thrive in NZ.. Until the Warriors get rid of some NZders they will continue to fail because of course their hungry, but they have no passion or guts.

    • I think the problem is that the Warriors play the game with a “touch football”, “Harlem Globetrotters” mentality. Throw the ball around, be exciting and unpredictable, take chances and ride the roller coaster and then when the ride stops they feel disoriented and confused and try to remember what just happened. They need structure and they need discipline from the top down. They also need a real coach. I like Stephen Kearney, honestly. I respect what he did as a player at club and international level but he is NO coach. Ivan Cleary turned the clubs fortunes around (along with James Maloney). Since they lost a player and a coach of that calibre they have not recovered. Someone else on this site nailed it when they said that a former Kiwi player said the Warriors need to expand their focus outside of Kiwi nationals and look to attract top quality Australian players to bring experience and professionalism to the club. Madge would be a perfect choice as coach to instill some discipline and order to the club but I wouldn’t wish such a difficult job on one of the best coaches Souths has ever had.

      It would be a perfect challenge for Wayne Bennett to prove he actually IS a super coach if he would take over the Warriors as is, without Boyd or any other Australian/QLD rep players to make the job easier.

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