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The Roar


Resilient Roo continues to hop after inspiring AFL comeback from cancer

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25th August, 2022

Resilience is a word that is thrown around quite easily.

It’s a word that tends to looks good on a resume.

Often people throw it around willingly to show that they can be tough. They have ‘resilience’ because they have faced some sort of adversity in their life and persevered through it.

But what does it really mean?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, resilience is defined as ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties’.

But if you looked up the word resilience in an AFL dictionary , it would most likely have a picture of Ben Cunnington.

It was in July last year that Cunnington was first diagnosed with testicular cancer. Then, while recovering, he got hit with a second bout of the deadly disease in November. The return of the cancer required nine weeks of intensive chemotherapy.


And to add a further blow, as he was recovering, he suffered a calf strain and most recently had a bout of COVID-19.

Thankfully the North Melbourne favourite is now in remission. And after making a successful comeback, Cunnington’s AFL journey will continue with a two-year contract extension at the Roos.

The two-time best and fairest winner was set to become a free agent at the end of the year. However, he has recommitted to the Kangaroos, which will keep him at Arden Street until the end of 2024.

Cunnington’s continued commitment to the club is such great news for a rebuilding side.

“Ben is a great North Melbourne person, he personifies the spirit of our club,” North Melbourne’s general manager Brady Rawlings said.

“Our players stand taller when they’re around him and after watching the journey he’s been on over the past 12 months, our members and supporters’ connection to him is as strong as ever.

“Ben’s commitment to the club over many years speaks to his loyalty as a player and person. He is as committed to us as we are to him, so we are delighted.”


The veteran Kangaroo shone in his first encounter back at VFL level less than three weeks ago. Never one to shy away from the contest, he did not take a step back in his first game either. Winning the first clearance, he went on to amass 18 disposals in just three quarters in the VFL.

After that stunning comeback performance, he was given the green light to return at AFL level the following week. The 31-year-old, who was drafted to North Melbourne with the fifth selection in the 2009 AFL draft, played his first game of the season against Adelaide.

“I’m here now, I’m hungry and I feel like I’ve worked hard and I’m in a position to hopefully help you boys out again. I’m keen as ever,” the star midfielder said at the time of announcing his return to the AFL two weeks ago.

He admited the outpouring of support has been quite overwhelming. Very loved and highly respected among his peers too, Interim coach Leigh Adams announced the midfielder’s return to his teammates after asking what playing with him meant to them. They could not speak more highly of him and his value to the team.

He played a key role in a Kangaroos side that reached two preliminary finals in 2014 and 2015 and had been one of the most durable players in the competition before his cancer battle.

In the on-baller’s first match since round 19 last year, he did not disappoint. Once again he did not take a backwards step and was straight into the thick of the action. The Kangaroos’ spiritual leader battled hard throughout the match and finished with 17 disposals, of which six were contested. He also had three clearances.


Watching him glide through the centre of the oval, you’d be forgiven for forgetting he had not played in 385 days.

Interviewed by Fox Footy following his comeback game, Cunnington shared what his return to AFL footy meant to him.

“During the treatment I could barely get out of bed and go to the toilet without collapsing or feeling crook,” he reflected.

“There were definitely times I did think I was in a bit of trouble.

“I felt if I could just tick it off [and] then go into the off-season being ‘normal’, I feel like I can still play some good footy next year.

“Until it [playing] gets taken away from you, you quickly realise how much you do love it

“To get another opportunity to play, I couldn’t be more appreciative or grateful.”


Even though the Kangaroos were smashed by the Gold Coast Suns in Round 23, the tough-as-nails boy from regional Victoria tried hard. He finished with 14 disposals and three tackles.

After landing master coach Alastair Clarkson last week for five more years, the Kangaroos have a heart-and-soul player that the four-time premiership coach will love to have guide the younger Roos to success.

After taking on Hawthorn’s coaching role ahead of 2005, Alastair Clarkson led the young Hawks to premiership glory in 2008.

With a few more additions to the Roos squad, can the legendary coach replicate that with a North Melbourne club starved of success?

The question many North Melbourne fans will have is, can he get the Roos hopping to a premiership?

One thing is for sure, he’ll have a determined Ben Cunnington to assist him for the next two years. And having missed so much footy lately, the inspirational leader is primed for a full pre-season ahead of 2023.