Ben Cunnington’s recovery from his testicular cancer diagnosis has sidelined the star midfielder for some time, but a return to near-full training has sparked the struggling North Melbourne camp.
Cunnington, who last played in round 19 2021, has started training with the main group in his bid to return to AFL footy and a miraculous comeback from his secondary diagnosis late last year.
The former pick five in the 2009 draft has been increasing his workload incrementally since returning from a nine-week course of chemotherapy in November and is making headway toward the elite level.
Coach David Noble gave insight into the group’s increased energy and enthusiasm having Cunnington back training and when the 30-year-old may return.
“It’s probably more now on loading. A few weeks would be best guess, but it’s put a real pep in our step,” he said on Thursday.
“The boys are excited to have him out there in main training drills. I’ve noticed the lift in myself.
“There are things he needs to tick off from a personal medical perspective … but he’s been really diligent. He’s been really stoic in his detail to his recovery.”
Head of performance Kevin White said on Tuesday that North Melbourne players and fans are pleased to have him back on the track after what he’s had to deal with.
“He’s going really well,” White said.
“He’s moved now from two high-conditioning sessions on the ground to three. He’s probably had three to four weeks of that now. He’s integrated (on Tuesday) back into some of the football drills. Over the next few weeks, it’s that percentage of training and percentage of conditioning with him.
“We’re looking now at a really strong three-week block to progress and integrate into the main group. We’ll take it then at the end of that three weeks to assess where he lies in terms of his head and his body towards a return-to-play at the end of that point.
“But, like always, there’s no real pressure on him at this point in terms of having a date to return to play. The pleasing thing is that he’s got a real return-to-play mindset on him at the minute.
“He’s graduating week-on-week through some really good loads and consistent loading. (Tuesday) was another really good step for [Cunnington] in reintegrating with the main group through some skills.”
The Kangaroos face Adelaide in Tasmania, which is seen as a real opportunity to get their second win on the board.
Noble admitted that winning is important and it could go a long way to getting the rebuild back on track.
“It’s important nourishment that you get in understanding how to win and what that feels like,” Noble said.
“It’s important to feel what that winning feeling is about.
“We feel like we have made some ground on certain elements … we have some handy players coming back. We feel like we are adding more depth, that helps.”