Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury feared that Jamie Elliott’s back injury would spell the end of his AFL career.
The livewire forward is set to make an emotional return in Thursday’s pre-season game against Essendon after being sidelined for all of last year.
Elliott has been named in an extended 29-man squad for the Etihad Stadium clash, with youngsters Matthew Scharenberg and Jackson Ramsay also set to return after undergoing knee reconstructions.
The 24-year-old struggled with a pars defect injury in his back that was operated on in May but has trained strongly and made it through last week’s intra-club match unscathed.
Pendlebury, who will sit out Thursday’s game, says it will be special to see Elliott return from an injury many of his teammates feared could have been career-ending.
“I think everyone had concerns that he wasn’t going to get back,” he said on Tuesday.
“He was pretty nervous at the time. Any time you have to go and have back surgery, it’s pretty scary.
“Since day one of the preseason, he’s been back out here. You can just see the love of football he’s got. He appreciates it that much more now that he’s had 12 months out so we’re looking forward to him coming back.
Elliott last week said he expected to shed a tear when he made his AFL return, prompting some gentle ribbing from his teammates.
“I hope he doesn’t tear up because there’s a lot worse things than missing a season of football,” Pendlebury joked.
With senior Magpies Pendlebury, Brodie Grundy, Adam Treloar, Taylor Adams and Ben Reid all rested, Thursday’s clash looms as an opportunity for their younger teammates to show their value.
With Collingwood seeking a finals berth for the first time since 2013, Pendlebury said his side needed to start the regular season strongly after winning just two of their first seven games last year.
“You’ve just got to get off to a fairly good start, build that confidence and once you’re into the season, anything can happen,” he said.