After going A to G, we turn our focus to the remaining nine teams to put the spotlight on a key player and their fight for fitness in season 2012.

Hawthorn: Jarryd Roughhead – Jarryd Roughead had a difficult 2011. An achilles tendon rupture in round 12 meant that Roughead had to watch his side edge close to, but ultimately fall short of finals success. To compound matters, 2 months after having an operation to fix his achilles, Roughead developed an infection in the repaired tendon. Complications following operative repair of the achilles tendon are actually not that uncommon and risk of infection is considerably higher than, for example, ACL repair (although, the consequences of an infection in an ACL repair are much more disastrous). Despite this, Roughead and Hawthorn will be satisfied that they have elected for the right option with surgery, where the rate of achilles rerupture is in the vicinity of 2.5%, compared with over 10% in those who don’t receive surgery and allow it to heal on its own. As an opposition fan, I enjoy seeing Roughead wield his massive frame with an unusual amount of grace and poise, and hopefully we all don’t have to wait long in 2012 to see him line up in the Hawthorn colours.

navicular bone
The navicular bone in the foot.

Melbourne: Jack Grimes – James Hird, Shane Woewodin, Tom Williams, Matthew Egan, Hayden Ballantyne and Jack Grimes. What these players have in common is that they have all fractured a small bone near the centre of the foot, the navicular bone. Hird went on to captain a premiership side and capture the imaginations of a generation of football fans – and on the other end of the spectrum, Matthew Egan’s career was sadly cruelled by an injury to this little bone. The navicular bone is a sort of in-between bone, helping to bridge the ankle to the foot: it has to deal with a lot of forces pushing it in lots of directions. Symptoms of navicular fractures are not very alarming, often just a bit of pain in a vague area. Add to this that they are not common across all sports and that there is not much written about them, and you start to see why navicular fractures get picked up so late. Navicular fractures can be treated with a moon boot if it isn’t too bad, or surgery may be required. One of the theories concerning the variability in recovery relates to the blood supply, which is generally poor, but also varies from individual to individual. Grimes had surgery on his navicular early in 2011 and looks set to return early in 2012 after a reportedly solid pre-season. Melbourne fans will be keen to see him running through the banner in round 1, with fingers crossed that his navicular won’t give him any troubles. Only time will tell and with this little bone, it hasn’t been enough time to say for certain.

Port Adelaide: Brent Renouf – With injuries to Matthew Lobbe and Brent Renouf, Port’s already lean ruck stocks look positively anorexic. Both Lobbe and Renouf are set to return early, if not round 1, but if there are two rules to go by with injuries they are to never be too certain and to be even less certain with ruckmen. Renouf has been afflicted with the same problem as Jonathon Patton, patella tendinopathy. Port appear to be taking the more conservative approach with Renouf and avoiding that Swedish knee surgery. Generally speaking, patella tendinopathy has a limited course and resolves with time, rest and subsequent strengthening, but when it becomes chronic it is a debilitating condition for a professional athlete to endure. Renouf will be looking to have a big impact at his new club in 2012 and Port will be keen for their experienced recruit to shoulder much of the rucking duties. They will both be hoping that injury does not limit this.

North Melbourne: Daniel Wells – North are a tough team to write about on the injury front, and their fans should be grateful for this. It’s been known for a long time that North have been building a promising and talented midfield and ruck group. The problem they’ve had is with getting all that talent fit and in form all at the same time. At last they have had an almost dream pre-season and we may see the true potential of this squad. But there’s a catch. As I have written about elsewhere, North’s talented midfield group will be without Daniel Wells as he finishes his 6 months on the blood-thinning medication Warfarin. Wells will not be ready to go as soon as he ceases the medication. After he stops the medication, his blood clotting will be tracked and once it reaches a safe level he will be allowed to start contact training. It’s going to take some time for him to train up to match conditions. I will be waiting until around round 5 before I get too excited about watching North’s midfield group at full flight.

Richmond: Jack Riewoldt – Richmond are the team you want to support right now, at least in terms of injuries. The biggest problem they’ve had is booking all of Jack Riewoldt’s surgeries. He has had hip, finger and ankle surgery. The ankle surgery was for a damaged left ankle that appeared to have restricted him in 2011. The hip surgery was essentially to remove loose cartilage and clean up the joint to minimize hip pain – an increasingly popular surgery in AFL post-seasons. All this has meant a restricted, but encouraging pre-season for Riewoldt. Where his ailments appeared to restrict him at times in season 2011, after a pre-season focused on getting his body ready for another long season, I’ll be watching for a dominant Jack Riewoldt as the Tigers make their claim for a finals birth in 2012.

St Kilda: Lenny Hayes – At last we come to an ACL. Lenny Hayes, the engine room of the St Kilda midfield, summarised St Kilda’s disappointing 2011 season with a single torn ACL. Hayes and St Kilda opted for the traditional repair and not the LARS, probably with his post-football life in mind (long-term outcomes for LARS are more of an unknown). His recovery appears to be tracking nicely and if positives can be gleaned, they probably centre on the relatively older age of Hayes. He will likely suffer no chronic consequences of an ACL injury during his playing years, which is a plus for St Kilda fans keen on seeing Hayes run out his career in top form. From all reports coming out of St Kilda, Hayes has recovered well and is vying for round 1 selection.

Sydney Swans: Nick Malceski – Poor Malceski had a horror run in season 2011. It all started with a pre-season ACL tear, for which he had his second LARS surgery to the same knee (right) and his third ACL repair in total. After a swift return in round 9 all was looking good, until recurrent groin pain restricted his output in the second half of 2011. After a full pre-season, Malceski will be looking to put in a strong showing for a young Sydney side that looks fast and attacking. The youthful brigade up forward and through the middle appears to be developing well, with Sydney’s traditionally strong defense the notable key to creating a formidable end-to-end side. Malceski will need to test both his groin and his knee this season to create invaluable run out of defense. Should he have an injury in season 2012, Sydney fans should rest assured that Malceski’s history of recovery is almost suggestive of mythical healing powers, even by LARS standards.

Right leg: typical forces in an ACL tear

West Coast: Mark LeCras – I was going to dedicate this section to the renaissance man of 2011, Andrew Embley, who experienced a subluxation (partial dislocation) of his shoulder two weeks back. I will leave the shoulder subluxation spiel for another time and instead turn my attention to the big injury scare of the moment: Mark LeCras. LeCras, a perennial favourite of Eagles fans and opposition fans alike, came to grief yesterday during training. Vision of the incidence shows LeCras collapsing to ground after pivoting to his left off his right knee, which was in a relatively extended position. Unfortunately for Eagles fans, this is almost the classic description of a non-contact ACL tear. On the flip-side, this is almost the classic description of a lot of other knee injuries, all of which are less serious than an ACL tear. Weighing this up and given the mechanism of injury and the way he was walking afterwards, I would err on the side of an ACL. The Football World awaits the definitive results of LeCras’ scans with eager interest. Alternatives to an ACL injury include meniscus and medial collateral ligament tears. Depending on the grading, these injuries could mean anything from a round 1 return to 8 weeks on the sidelines. Of course, 9 months with an ACL is what we all fear – and I’m 75% sure that is what it is.

Western Bulldogs: Adam Cooney – I would have loved to write about Brian Lake’s battle with injury, but every time I sat down to write about Lake I was plagued by two problems: the number of different injuries Lake has been battling and how many of these injuries remain a mystery. Instead I have decided to shed some light on Adam Cooney’s battle with chronic knee pain, which restricted the Brownlow medallist to just 13 games. Cooney suffered a heavy blow to his knee, fracturing his patella in the 2008 qualifying final against Hawthorn. High-energy impacts on the patella tend to cause horizontal fractures that can easily separate, requiring surgery to hold the two fragments together. There are many ways to fix a patella fracture, unfortunately none of them greatly reduce the risk of developing chondromalacia patella, a painful condition in which the patella scratches against the cartilage it sits on. The only solution is regular surgery to smooth the patella surface or to remove the patella (not an option for any sportsperson). For Adam Cooney, this is a career-long issue, all he can do is learn how to manage it the best he can, which includes slimming down and optimising his recovery.