Johnson on track for Nines return
As the pre-season slog wears on, there was positive news for tournament organisers, Warriors and rugby league fans everywhere: Shaun Johnson looks set to take his place at the Auckland Nines in February.
The halfback has been sidelined since his side's Round 20 clash with the Sea Eagles, when a trademark run to the try-line ended in four points and a broken ankle.
But appearing in the pre-season tournament has always been the goal for the 2014 Golden Boot winner, with the format the perfect platform for Johnson to showcase his sublime skills, expected to be named alongside new teammates Issac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in what will surely be the most impressive Nines squad assembled.
Speaking to the media during the week, Johnson provided an update on the injury and his expected return date.
"I'm going really good, the body's feeling pretty good, still a little bit off but I've been able to be out on the field a bit more, being around the boys, whether it's just passing, light jogging and that," Johnson said.
"It has its days where it sort of feels good and bad but more often than not now I'm just going out there and being able to jog around without feeling any pain, which is a bit of relief because for a while there, there was a bit of pain.
"But it's feeling good and I'm on track to play in the Nines."
Despite his recovery going to plan thus far, there are still plenty of boxes Johnson needs to tick if he's going to be ready in time, with mental challenges the biggest hurdles he's yet to overcome.
"I think that's going to be there for a little while yet, it probably won't go away until I get tackled for the first time and get a bit of confidence with the ball in my hands running into a defensive line," Johnson added.
"That's all stuff I'm going to have to get over if I want to play in the Nines. The coaching staff have given me some targets that I've got to reach, making sure I'm ready."
Johnson isn't the only playmaker currently making his way back from injury, with the man expected to start the season in the No.6 jersey Thomas Leuluai also on the mend following an ACL injury sustained earlier in 2015.
Should either fail in their bid to return to the field in time for the Nines or even Round 1 of the Telstra Premiership, experienced halfback Jeff Robson is ready to step in if required.
Recruited from the Sharks after being a regular in that side since arriving at the club in 2012, Johnson was full of praise for the man who will be entering his 13th season in the top grade.
"He's been really good, he's a really good dude which is probably the main thing, I get along with him really well, and I think everyone at the club has.
"He's slotted straight in. Just his experience, his calmness and confidence that he has, especially with a few us out... he's sort of taking that role on and giving the boys some direction out there."