They developed them, nurtured them and brought them to the boil – now the New Zealand Warriors have to contemplate how to retain scorching young talent Kevin Locke and Shaun Johnson.
For years, critics of the Warriors have pointed to deficiencies in the halves as an obstacle to NRL titles. Now, with Johnson raising eyebrows all over rugby league in his partnership with the valuable James Maloney, the Warriors suddenly have talent in that key area – plus the searing pace and urgency of Kevin Locke in the vital fullback role.
The question is: can they keep them?
Both players are still under contract – Johnson until the end of next season, Locke for two more seasons – but that will not stop the sharks circling, as agents are approached with lucrative offers.
Both born and bred on Auckland’s North Shore, Locke and Johnson are reluctant to leave New Zealand’s only NRL franchise. Success at club level will help to keep them here, though it will also make the jigsaw harder to put together.
Maloney is also on the radar of top clubs and the Warriors will need to look after him too – plus their stable of four hard-working props.
“The future will be hard to work out,” admits Locke. “I’ll just have to see how I go. If the opportunity is here to stay I will but if I have to go I will move on.”