North Melbourne considering immediate AFL return for cancer survivor Ben Cunnington

North Melbourne considering immediate AFL return for cancer survivor Ben Cunnington

The prospect of throwing cancer survivor Ben Cunnington straight into the North Melbourne team to play Sydney this weekend is “really exciting” and would serve as a huge source of motivation against the top-four contenders, according to caretaker coach Leigh Adams.

Cunnington hasn’t played a senior game since round 19 last year after battling two boots of testicular cancer that required a tumour to be surgically removed and a nine-week course of chemotherapy respectively.

The star on-baller’s return was further delayed recently by a calf strain and a bout of Covid.

While he’s more likely to line up in the VFL this weekend, if Cunnington gets through training on Thursday, he will be considered for a senior return against the Swans at Marvel Stadium on Sunday.

“Pretty sure I know what his preference will be and the coach’s preference, it’ll just be what’s best for his body going forward,” Adams said at Arden Street on Wednesday.

“But at this time of year, it’s a great story for us, for the motivation of the group and the footy club, really.

“It’s been an amazing journey which will hopefully be capped off very soon.

“The last thing we want to do is put him in there and he breaks down and then he’s out for the rest of the year.

“We’re thinking it’s probably going to be the VFL even though we’d probably love it to be straight back in (the senior team).

“Deep down I know he’d love to play seniors, particularly being a game in Melbourne this weekend and we travel next weekend, so to have his support network and his family that have been through so much with him to be at the game would be fantastic.

“But … it’s only an hour flight to Adelaide (for the game against the Crows in round 22), take his family over there so it’s not too far.”

Adams admitted Cunnington had left a void in the North Melbourne midfield for the past 12 months that the Roos had struggled to fill. The bottom-ranked club remains on course for back-to-back wooden spoons for the first time in 87 years.

Paul Curtis and Aaron Hall are pressing for senior recalls after missing last week due to Covid, but Jack Mahony and Lachie Young will be line ball as they entered protocols on Sunday, which means they would exit them on game day.

Super coach Alastair Clarkson continues to be linked to North’s vacant senior coaching position for the next season and Adams was excited by the possibility of the four-time premiership mentoring signing on.

“The credibility as a footy club that would be gained by bringing in someone like him would be fantastic,” Adams said.

The future of Cam Zurhaar remains under a cloud after the out-of-contract forward put off talks until the end of the season, and Adams said the club would “love” the talented 24-year-old to stay at Arden Street.

“He’s obviously a fantastic player for us and a little bit of a barometer when we’re playing well,” Adams said.

And the North caretaker had similar feelings about Todd Goldstein, who is strongly rumoured to be joining another club next season.

“I’ve got a soft spot for ‘Goldy’, I got drafted the same year as ‘Goldy’,” Adams said.

“I’d just love to see him be a one-club player.”

North/s 1996 premiership players will be in attendance on Sunday, and Adams said their presence would give the players an extra boost.

“It’ll be awesome,” Adams said. “It’s exciting to have such great footy people around our footy club to impart some knowledge to our younger boys.”

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