Geelong’s Josh Cowan’s 1384-day wait is almost over.
Cowan has been named in the Cats side for their clash with Collingwood on Friday night, when he will play his first AFL game since round 18, 2011.
The 24-year-old has suffered a series of Achilles and hamstring injuries over the past four years.
But the Cats kept the faith, booking a trip to London in 2013 for career-saving surgery then re-signing the midfielder after the 2014 season.
“These are the sort of games you really want to play – big games, big crowd at the MCG. So I’m very excited,” Cowan told the club website on Thursday.
“Tomorrow and tonight I guess I’ll be very nervous. ”I can’t wait for it to start.”
Daniel Menzel, who is on the comeback trail after a fourth knee reconstruction and also hasn’t played an AFL game since 2011, was among the many Geelong players to pay tribute to Cowan’s persistence.
“Spent so much time in rehab with this legend and couldn’t be happier for ya after seeing you bounce back through setback after setback,” Menzel posted on Instagram.
Meanwhile, playmakers Dale Thomas and Brett Deledio will return in round six, looking to lift their respective sides after an underwhelming start to the AFL season.
Deledio, who hasn’t played since round one due to an achilles injury, is one of four changes that Tigers coach Damien Hardwick made for Saturday’s clash with North Melbourne in Hobart.
Ben Griffiths, Nathan Gordon and Dylan Grimes are also back for Richmond, while Corey Ellis (leg) was joined on the sidelines by the axed trio of Ty Vickery, Ben Lennon and Sam Lloyd.
The Kangaroos recalled Lachie Hansen, Jarrad Waite and Luke McDonald at the expense of Aaron Black, Kayne Turner and Ben Jacobs.
Thomas, Levi Casboult and Troy Menzel were included in Carlton’s 25-man squad for their match against Brisbane on Sunday.
Former Lions forward Lachie Henderson (hamstring) will miss the chance to play against his old club, who added Matthew Leuenberger and James Aish to their extended squad.
St Kilda were strengthened by the inclusion of old hands Leigh Montagna and Nick Riewoldt for Saturday’s clash with Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium.
The Bulldogs will be minus Lin Jong (hand) and Matthew Boyd (general soreness), with Lachie Hunter to play his first AFL game since being cleared of breaching the league’s betting code.
Veteran Essendon defender Dustin Fletcher (groin) and Fremantle counterpart Luke McPharlin (calf) will miss Saturday’s match in Perth, where Alex Pearce will debut for the Dockers.
Collingwood confirmed this year’s Anzac medallist Paul Seedsman will miss Friday night’s game against Geelong due to a groin injury.
Jackson Ramsay (shin) and Corey Gault (omitted) are also out for the Magpies, while the Cats dropped three players to pave the way for Mitch Clark, Nakia Cockatoo, Cowan and Rhys Stanley to return.
Sydney also omitted three players – Harry Cunningham, Craig Bird and Dean Towers – after a shock SCG loss to the Bulldogs.
Versatile big man Sam Reid (calf) and young gun Isaac Heeney (ankle) have recovered from their respective minor setbacks, while pint-sized tackling machine Ben McGlynn was also promoted for the Swans’ battle with Melbourne at the MCG.
Father-son selection Billy Stretch will debut for the Demons, who dumped Jack Grimes, Jordie McKenzie, Viv Michie and Mark Jamar.
Paul Puopolo and Jed Anderson were the men that Hawthorn called on to fill the void left by suspended veterans Jordan Lewis and Luke Hodge on Saturday against Greater Western Sydney.
The Giants recalled Matt Buntine, Adam Kennedy and Zac Williams in place of Nathan Wilson, Josh Kelly and Aidan Corr.
Former Richmond and Brisbane tagger Andrew Raines was among seven players to benefit from Gold Coast’s recent woes.
Raines will make his club debut for the Suns, who also added Clay Cameron, Rory Thompson, Aaron Hall, Zac Smith, Luke Russell and Mitch Hallahan to their side.
The Crows weren’t without their own headaches at the selection table.
Ricky Henderson (pectoral), Cam Ellis-Yolmen (hamstring), Josh Jenkins (hip) and Richard Douglas (foot) were all enforced omissions for Adelaide, with debutant Jake Lever among the replacements.