Adam Cooney becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the season
ADAM Cooney's rejuvenation since cutting-edge knee treatment should ensure the Western Bulldogs offer a new contract that convinces him to turn his back on free agency, former captain Luke Darcy says.
Cooney, 27, becomes a restricted free agent at the end of this season, meaning opposition clubs are free to make a play for him, but the Bulldogs can keep him by matching any offer.
When this season's list of free agents was released in March, Cooney was one of the most intriguing players on it.
He was coming off two seasons in which his degenerative right knee had limited him to 27 games and made him a shadow of the player who won the 2008 Brownlow Medal.
But post-season treatment in Germany, which involved taking blood from his arm, separating and incubating its growth cells and injecting them into his knee, has helped Cooney train harder and perform better than he has in years.
After this season's first five rounds, he is averaging 23.4 possessions a game – his best return since 2010 – in a new role across half-back and has kicked eight goals.
It's form that will have sparked heightened interest from opposition clubs, but Darcy says the Bulldogs will be desperate to keep Cooney, and the 187-game Bulldog will be equally keen to stay.
"The best thing from my point of view, wearing my Western Bulldogs supporter's hat, is that there will be a heap of (opposition) attention again because Adam's knee looks great and he's moving like the player who won a Brownlow Medal," Darcy said.
"If he was going down the same path that he was the last two years with his degenerative knee, not being able to train, he probably wasn't going to have options to do anything really.
"But now I think the Bulldogs will be desperate to keep him and, having played with him, he strikes me as the sort of guy who would be very, very comfortable staying at the one club.
"I still believe that is a massive factor in people's decisions, so, unless there is some sort of massive discrepancy or an opportunity that is just out of this world, my belief is he's not someone who would jump ship."
Cooney signed a lucrative contract back in May 2010, at a time when Gold Coast had approached him to be part of its inaugural list and when the right patella he cracked in the 2008 finals series had not yet degenerated to the extent of 2011-12.
Speaking on Thursday, Brendan McCartney acknowledged that speculation over Cooney would be a recurring theme for the Bulldogs this year.
"Jason McCartney deals with list management, and player contracts, and Adam's happy playing footy and he's just happy playing at the Western Bulldogs," he said.
"We'll get to the end of the season and if he keeps playing the way he is, well, he'll end up number one (to get a playing contract)."
"I may get asked this twenty times this year, fifteen times, ten times, we'll deal with it at the end of the year."
Despite the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Cooney's knee, Darcy said he had shown this year he could play as an "elite" half-back for another three or four seasons.
Darcy believed if Cooney's form and good health continued, the Bulldogs would eventually offer him the money and length of tenure that would ensure he rejected any tempting opposition offers.
Darcy also thought the Bulldogs would prioritise retaining him on their young list above any free agency compensation they might get for him leaving.
But prominent sports physician Dr Peter Larkins told AFL.com.au any opposition suitors should be aware Cooney's knee condition remained degenerative and would still require careful management.
"There's nothing magical about the Regenokine treatment Adam received in Germany," Larkins said, explaining that it aimed to stop further cartilage damage and knee swelling.
"His symptoms have settled down since, but I've always said be cautious about saying he's over his knee problem because it's early in the season.
"He's had the knee controlled through the pre-season and five rounds, but it remains to be seen whether it will stand up to 25 weeks of footy."
Larkins said Cooney's knee would likely require further treatment, with a similar procedure to Regenokine, Orthokine, now available in Australia and already used by St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt.
Nick Bowen is a reporter with AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter: @AFl_Nick