The 30-year-old Cronulla playmaker snapped an Achilles tendon last September, prematurely ending a standout season which saw him lead the NRL for try assists.
Johnson and wife Kayla (nee Cullen) – a former Silver Ferns netballer – welcomed daughter Millah in August, not long before his injury.
Johnson has featured in a video on the Sharks' website detailing his rehabilitation workload while his Cronulla colleagues “get to run out on the field and pass a footy around’’.
Footage showed the 30-test Kiwi working out on a stationary bike, going through stretching exercises and lifting weights in a facility he said “we call the altitude chamber; it’s a chamber of death, pretty much’’.
“Hopefully, in a few weeks, I’ll start running,’' Johnson said.
Meanwhile, Johnson is ranked No 6 in a Sydney Morning Herald list of the 20 most wanted, off-contract players in the NRL.
The list - headed by Brisbane Broncos second row/centre Kotoni Staggs – also featured Kiwis and Melbourne Storm players Brandon Smith (hooker/loose forward) and Jahrome Hughes (scrumhalf) at No 2 and No 8, respectively.
The report, by Michael Chammas, said Johnson’s current Sharks contract was worth $850,000 a year with his new deal value estimated at $600,000+.
Johnson was “not expected back from an Achilles injury until at least round eight. Carried Cronulla to the semi-finals last year and led the NRL in try assists. The Sharks are waiting to see how he returns before making a play.’’
Despite missing the final two games of the season after his Achilles injury, Johnson still finished top of the try-assists chart on 23, with Panthers pivot Jarome Luai.
Smith, 24, is on $450,000 a year at the Storm, but his new deal value was estimated at $650,000+.
Chammas wrote Smith “still has two seasons to run on his deal but the Storm have indicated they will release him in 2022 if they get a suitable replacement. The Titans, Broncos and Tigers have identified Smith as one of their top recruitment targets.’’
Hughes, 26, who has successfully converted to the halves from fullback, can expect to attract $650,000 a year from his next deal – up from $500,000 currently.
”The asking price is around $800,000 but there is little appetite for the premiership-winning halfback at that money,’’ Chammas wrote. “One of the most improved players in the game who is speaking to several clubs, including Brisbane, Cronulla and the Warriors.’’