ENERGETIC midfielder Zak Butters has been here before - and he will use all of his recent experiences in rehabilitation from injury to be part of Port Adelaide's push for a place in September's top-eight AFL finals.
"Every game from here is a big game, so I want to get back as quick as I can to help the boys out," said Butters who has returned to the injury list with a left-knee injury.
Butters suffered a grade 2 strain to the medial ligament of the knee during the second term of Saturday's 23-point win against Sydney at Adelaide Oval. His legs were caught under the weight of Sydney rival Harry Cunningham during a tackle on the eastern wing at Adelaide Oval. He was immediately subbed out of the game for wingman Xavier Duursma.
It is a repeat of last season when Butters strained the medial ligament of his right knee in the round 17 clash with eventual AFL premier Melbourne at Adelaide Oval - a moment Butters is reliving to take advantage of the lessons gathered on the comeback trail in 2021.
Butters missed just one AFL game with that knee strain last year when he learned of the demands of rehabilitating from injury, missing 13 weeks after suffering an ankle injury against Richmond in round 4.
"It feels pretty much the same as last year, although the first few days it is always pretty sore," Butters said of the injury. "Once you get on the training bike and get moving again, you'll know pretty quickly how it feels.
Butters will certainly miss the home clash with 11th-ranked Gold Coast at Adelaide Oval on Sunday. His determination to return to the AFL line-up as soon as possible is also inspired by the growing confidence in the team that has responded to a 0-5 start to the home-and-away series with a 6-2 run in the past eight weeks.
"We have to keep winning to stay alive," said Butters of the equation that demands 12th-ranked Port Adelaide (6-7) win at least six of its remaining nine home-and-away matches. "Every game means a lot for the football club and the team. It is win or go home for us at the moment.
"We put a lot of emphasis about starting some momentum with the Sydney game and now we move on to Gold Coast."
Butters paid tribute to his team-mates for standing firm while he and first-game ruckman Brynn Teakle (broken collarbone) were forced out of the game by injury during the first 14 minutes of the second term - after Port Adelaide had started the match without the experience of former captain Travis Boak and Robbie Gray.
"We were a younger team and a few guys stepped up - Darcy Byrne-Jones as a leader of the team played a good game; Ollie Wines in the midfield; Todd Marshall as a forward," Butters said.
"Connor Rozee was good again. He has taken big steps this year as an explosive midfielder who hits the scoreboard - just what we needed on Saturday without Travis Boak and Robbie Gray in the team. He took up a fair chunk of what we lost in run and carry without Boak there. He was really impressive.
"Todd Marshall has realised how important he is to our team and you see it when he gets the ball - and kicks goals (27 this season). He has matured. He has put a lot of work into his game and it is good that he is getting the recognition he deserves now."