Shaun Johnson is rated a good chance to get his wish of playing in the NRL Auckland Nines, but Warriors coach Andrew McFadden says the star halfback will be selected only if fully fit.
Johnson is coming back from a broken ankle against Manly in late July and has begun doing light running.
“He’s certainly tracking very nicely at the moment,” McFadden said.
“He’s almost ahead of schedule, but we’ll wait and see.”
Johnson is expected to be running freely again in the New Year and getting a month of full training under his belt would put the 25-year-old in the frame for the Nines.
McFadden said he would happy for the Johnson to play in the tournament on February 6 and 7 “as long as he’s 100 per cent fit”.
“It’s a game that he loves and I want to give him every opportunity,” he said.
“Obviously we won’t take any risks. The NRL season is also very important for us, but we’ve got an obligation to do well here so I want to put out our best team.”
Johnson’s availability could mean the Warriors fielding an especially lethal attack, with big-name new signings Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke also expressing an interest in taking part.
Tuivasa-Sheck and Luke, as co-skipper, have been on the just-completed Kiwis tour of England and are being given a break before joining the Warriors in pre-season training in January.
“As long as they’re in good shape and we feel they’re not compromised, I think it would be a great opportunity for both those guys to play with their new teammates and for New Zealanders to see their new team,” McFadden said.
“They’re going to need a good rest. They’ve had a big season, so we want to make sure they’re fresh for next year.”
While the Warriors’ best finish in the tournament’s two years to date is making the semi-finals in 2014, Luke was part of South Sydney’s 2015 title-winning effort.
The home side have been given a tough draw, with the other teams in their pool – the Canterbury Bulldogs, Manly and Brisbane – all making this year’s NRL finals, but McFadden isn’t perturbed.
“Like any competition, you have to beat what’s in front of you,” he said.
“You have to face the best teams at some point.”