IN A SEASON that quickly saw the focus turn to development, there has been a missing ingredient at West Coast as the club's prized draftee Campbell Chesser nursed a serious injury through his debut year.

On track to play in round one when he suffered bone and ligament damage to his left ankle in February, Chesser has since watched on as 16 players made either their AFL or club debut with the Eagles this season, including five players from the COVID contingency list.

The classy right-footer won't get that same opportunity in the final five rounds, but his recovery has progressed at a good pace and he is now ahead of schedule and targeting a full training session with teammates before the end of the season.

"I'm back running now a couple of times a week, which is exciting, and my ankle is responding really well to increasing demands and progressions in my program," Chesser told this week.

Campbell Chesser warms up before West Coast's practice match against Fremantle on February 25, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

"Every time I've caught up with the surgeon he's been surprised with how well it has responded from the surgery, so everything is really positive and tracking in the right direction.

"It's really good to get back outside again running around the oval and I know I probably won't get to play this year, but a goal of mine is just to get back fully training with the boys.

"Just to get back into some drills and kicking the ball would be really nice, and that will set me up for what will be a massive pre-season leading into next year."

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Recruited with pick No.14 in last year's NAB AFL Draft, Chesser's eagerness to join teammates last year saw him drive across Australia over Christmas and quarantine for two weeks.

He made a quick impression at the club, both with his positive attitude and obvious talent on the track, standing out on a wing during match simulation with his speed and kicking skills.  

He was gathering significant momentum in late February when he lined up against Fremantle in an evening practice game at Mineral Resources Park, but an awkward landing in a marking contest just minutes after coming onto the ground "crunched" his left ankle.

Campbell Chesser clutches his ankle during an the practice match between West Coast and Fremantle at Mineral Resources Park on February 25, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

"From when I came down on my ankle, I thought I could take the kick, so I took a couple of steps forward and it didn't feel quite right," Chesser said.

"I kicked the ball and hobbled off the ground to do a couple of tests with the physios, but at that stage I had no idea about the extent of the injury.

"It was quite sore, so we pulled the pin on that game and then the scans came back in the next few days and from there I was pretty flat to be honest.

"I'd had a good pre-season. I came in late, but I felt like it was a really good pre-season and to be out for the season was really disappointing."

Campbell Chesser kicks the ball during a West Coast intraclub match on February 18, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

Chesser, who hails from Lavington, near Albury on the Victoria-NSW border, spent the early stages of his rehab in Melbourne, where he had boarded for four years at Melbourne Grammar before being drafted.

Time with friends and family gave him a mental break and the 19-year-old returned to the club with a new mindset and a focus on what he could achieve in his first season without playing. 

"It turned into an opportunity for me to learn off-field, get stronger in the gym and stay engaged in all our meetings," Chesser said.

"I've been able to work closely with Matthew Knights and the midfield group, along with my mentor in (development coach) Kyal Horsley.

Matthew Knights speaks to West Coast players during the clash against Sydney in round five on April 15, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

"Getting to know Perth and developing relationships is probably the main thing, and then staying positive and upbeat around the group has been great for me."

Chesser has drawn on lessons from the book Atomic Habits through his rehab, focusing on things like diet and sleep, knowing that the small things all combine to help his ankle.

Recommended to him by former Vic Country coach and now Gold Coast VFL coach Jackson Kornberg, Chesser said the book was "essentially about small actions and how they can accumulate to eventually result in something quite significant".


Watching Chesser's approach to his recovery has only underlined to the Eagles that they made the right decision when calling his name with the highest NAB AFL Draft selection they have held since 2017.  

"At the end of the day my ankle is feeling really good at the moment and responding really well," Chesser said.

"I've passed the book onto mates as well, and I think it will hold me in good stead next year when I'm back playing footy, and also through the pre-season."