ADELAIDE defender Josh Worrell learned a harsh lesson in his first proper pre-season, but it was one that has made him the professional he is as he prepares to enter a crucial 2024 campaign in career-best shape.
Worrell, who was drafted in 2019 at pick No.28, remembers entering his second season off the back of a summer where he didn't meet the standards required of an AFL player, and he paid the price once training started.
Having taken on a new approach ahead of 2023, it was hamstring injuries instead that set him back, but the 22-year-old is now confident that his professionalism and an injury-free run can combine to give him the best preparation possible as he enters his fifth season.
"My first proper pre-season, I didn't come back in the nick I'd like to. I was pretty unfit and a long way off it, but in some ways I'm glad I did it," Worrell told AFL.com.au.
"It was during that COVID year, I went back to Melbourne and I wasn't really training with anyone and probably didn't know what the standard was. Footy probably wasn't front of mind, so I was a bit lost.
"It was a tough time, but I think it really taught me a lot, so I know now that I'll never let myself get to that position ever again. It really just made me the individual I am today.
"Then last year I felt like I was really fit and I was getting into the right area of being more professional, but I did my hammy and that kind of offset my pre-season. Hopefully this year it can really all come together."
So far it has all come together for Worrell, who has set personal best markers in the Crows' time trials and his gym work after training with a large group of Crows, led by former skipper Taylor Walker, during the off-season.
"I was pretty toey to get back into the swing of things, so I'm loving it and I'm probably the fittest I've ever been," he said.
"When you have those numbers you can afford to do a bit more footy stuff, which you wouldn't necessarily get if you were obviously by yourself or in small groups.
"I'm just feeling a lot stronger generally. Even in the training, I'm not feeling fatigued as early on and I'm moving really well, which is nice. It just shows if you keep putting in the work you're going to get the results."
Worrell gained a further appreciation for the importance of a full pre-season last year when he suffered a hamstring injury before Christmas and then tweaked it again before returning for the club's internal trial match.
The injury reoccurred in the Crows' pre-season match against Fremantle, however, with the talented defender subsequently sidelined until round 11 after working his way back to AFL level through the SANFL.
"I hadn't had an injury in a while and you see how much you crave being out there with the boys and not being in rehab," Worrell said.
"It puts into perspective how quickly the season goes as well. You can have a little hamstring hiccup and then next thing you know half of your season is gone."
Worrell went on to play 12 games in the most consistent patch of his career and shapes as an important player for the Crows in 2024, with key defender Nick Murray sidelined by an ACL injury and versatile backman Tom Doedee leaving for Brisbane as a free agent.
With the ability to play on tall and small opponents while also providing a rebound option, the 195cm defender's preferred position is closer to the role Doedee played, but he is ready to serve the Crows however necessary.
"It's a young backline and with Nick Murray going down, the coaches have said there's a chance to be a leader down there," Worrell said.
"In an ideal world I'd love to be that third tall defender, but unfortunately we don't live in an ideal world, so I think my role will always depend on match-ups.
"Our key back stocks have improved with Dan Curtin coming in and there's a few boys to choose from.
"It's a really young backline, but there's a lot of talent in there and I'm sure we can match it with the best."