It was a typical preseason opener.  In Melbourne the weather was warm and the change rooms were a hive of activity.  The facade had changed over summer, gone were the remnants of the Melbourne Rebels Rugby Union Club, the co-tenant of the umpires for the past six years and in their place is the Carlton Football Club AFL woman’s team.

The vibe in and around the change rooms is jovial, it reminds me of the first day at school after the Christmas break.  Some old acquaintances are renewed when first year recruit Ben McDonald is warmly congratulated by most of the guys who walk into the rooms.  New rookie John Howorth, is looking around for a familiar face.  Assistant trainer Ben Carbonaro is walking around with his arms full of new gear for the newly listed guys like Santa Claus on Christmas Day.  Some old faces are strangely absent, their lockers empty, it’s an eerie feeling.  Where’s Dicko and Johnny Morris?

Familiarity returns when you walk up the staircase and into the breakout area.  Some are already getting a pre training rub, around the corner there is already a line snaking back into the room wanting to see Frase and Andy the expert physios.  This is the first night of 2017.

Goal umpire Chris Appleton hobbles into the room with a broken toe, courtesy of a sand shoe crusher while playing weekend cricket.  Courtney Lai hobbles in on crutches trying to convince everyone he didn’t hurt his ankle during his 30th birthday celebrations two nights before.  “I stepped in a hole running last week.  It’s probably a 2-week injury,” reflected Courtney.

The boundaries seem to be injury free, with Drew Kowalski taking a cautious path not running his benchmark test with hamstring tightness.  In Queensland, veteran Nick Wade has ticked off another benchmark test while Gareth Hughes ran a PB as did Peter Bock.  Evergreen Aaron Deckys is in fine form with only 6 games to go to make it 300!

However, the field umps have quite a list of umpires on a rehab list.  Andrew Mitchell and Ben Ryan are on light duties recovering from shoulder surgeries pre Christmas.  Luke Farmer has developed a bulging disc in his back.  Justin Schmitt has strained a hamstring and Troy Pannell who is still recovering from a broken bone in his hand has now torn a hamstring during a practice match at Geelong last Wednesday.

With the JLT preseason competition starting in two weeks there will be plenty of openings for guys to put up their hands for selection in round one.

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