He's been crowned the "King of Nines" and Sharks maestro Shaun Johnson is confident the tournament in Perth will be the ideal tune-up for a revival of his fortunes in the NRL season.
Johnson was a major attraction at the NRL Nines in Auckland from 2014-17, delighting fans with his footwork and skill.
He enhanced his reputation as a short-form magician when he starred for the Kiwis at the inaugural World Cup 9s last October, prompting ex-Warriors teammate Ken Maumalo to give him a royal title.
Johnson has been selected alongside the likes of Wade Graham, Jesse Ramien, Briton Nikora, Aaron Woods and Josh Morris in a strong Cronulla squad to compete on Friday and Saturday at HBF Park.
The Sharks take on the Bulldogs and Dragons in pool two.
After a frustrating 2019 in which he sat out seven matches through injury, Johnson would have understood if coach John Morris was cautious and left him in Sydney.
Not that he wanted to miss the Perth fun.
"I've been putting it on Bomber [Morris]," Johnson said.
"Every day I finish training like, 'There's another one, Bomber. Did you see me run today? I felt fast today'.
"For me, if I'm thinking about round one, this is a part of that prep. What am I going to be doing, running laps around the field back here anyway? Nothing beats a game-like situation, especially Nines.
"I'll probably get a hit-out in another one of the pre-season games as well and get myself ready."
Morris has loved Johnson's unerring commitment over the summer and is excited to see the playmaker steer Cronulla's Nines ship.
"We've got four halves in our squad so you need to be smart about it, but I wouldn't take Shaun if he wasn't in good condition to play at that type of football," Morris said.
"He's had a really good pre-season. He's just showing so many signs that he's going to have a good year."
And while Johnson and his teammates will have an eye on round one, Morris said the Sharks are out to give the Nines a proper shake.
"Just from looking at a few squads that have come in, a few teams are certainly taking it serious and we'll be no different," he said.
Johnson is at ease coming into his second campaign with the Sharks.
The five-eighth took some time to adapt to Australia, having moved from New Zealand by himself just over 12 months ago after a sudden release from his Warriors deal.
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"[This time] last year I was still trying to find furniture for my house, putting in maps to get to Shark Park," Johnson said.
"Now, I'm settled. I've got my wife over, I've got familiar with the club ... everything just feels a lot more comfortable. I'm able just to apply myself to my trade."
At 29, Johnson is a senior member of Cronulla's side, especially after the departures of stalwarts Paul Gallen and Matt Prior, and the No.6 is enjoying being a mentor to some of Cronulla's rising stars.
"I think for these boys – the Bronson Xerris, the Blayke Braileys, the Briton Nikoras – they know what it's about so they're going to be firing," Johnson said of the second-year players.
"They're helping us drive [standards], they're vocal with how they speak but most importantly they show it through their actions."
Johnson is adamant that none of Cronulla's fabled grittiness will go with Gallen and Prior.
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"A sign of a tough or resilient club isn't in one or two players ... it's in the walls, it's everywhere, it's in the grass, it's in the water," Johnson said while acknowledging the duo leave big voids.
"The resilience the group showed last year, with all the injuries we had, to find ourselves in the finals – I was sitting there like, 'This is what I want to be doing'.
"Clubs face what we had to face last year, they're not making finals. There were games there where we had players that only we would know in the sheds went out there busted."
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