AFTER 11 months out of the game, Melbourne’s Jake Lever has made a successful return from his ACL injury.
The Melbourne defender took the field for the Casey Demons on Saturday afternoon, gathering seven disposals and two marks in the 43-point defeat to Port Melbourne.
Lever, who ruptured his anterior crucial ligament in Round 11 of the 2018 season, said it was a relief to finally make his long-awaited return.
“I was a little nervous before the game, just having not played for so long,” he told Melbourne Media.
“Once I got out there and got involved in my first contest, I was ready to go and blew off a couple of cobwebs.
“It’s just positive being out there and getting that one of out of the way, and hopefully moving onto next week.”
Lever played a total of 80 minutes, looking right at home with an impressive intercept grab in the first quarter, followed up by a diving mark in the second term.
The 23-year-old said while there’s improvement to be had, he was overall pleased to get through the game unscathed.
“The body feels good,” Lever said.
“I was on restricted minutes today, so it will probably be my first full game that will be the test.
“I ran under a couple of balls and didn’t time spoils like I normally would, but I think that’s going to come back with time.
“I probably personally let myself down in the last quarter, but it was just great to be back playing.”
While he found his feet on the field, his leadership skills on the sidelines were equally as important.
Spending more time on the bench than usual, Lever implored his knowledge and experience to help his fellow teammates.
“Some of the Casey boys really look to you when you do come back to VFL for a bit of advice,” he said.
“When I usually play, I wouldn’t really know who played well and who didn’t play well, but today, I just felt a lot more aware and knew what was happening.
“Being in the AFL coaches’ box for the past six months and actually being able to watch a lot of vision, that’s probably held me in good stead.
“I think it’s just an important role that every AFL player has when they come back to Casey.”
Senior coach Jade Rawlings was equally as impressed with his off-field efforts.
“He’s one of the best leaders at Melbourne, so to have his as VFL [level] is a real bonus,” he said.
“I think he’s been unbelievable in his rehab and in his attitude towards getting back to play – that’s the main thing I’ve assessed.
“He’s got a lot of improvement left in him after today, but our job is to keep increasing his game time and then increase his performance, to have him AFL-ready as soon as we can.”
Lever will now look to get another game under his belt when Casey takes on Williamstown in eight days’ time.
And while he has his sights set on his AFL return, he’s not getting too ahead of himself.
“I’d love to play against Adelaide – that’s my aim,” he said.
“But we’ll just focus on next week first.”