Michael Apeness wishes he hadn't fallen out of love with footy a few years ago. Fortunately, it took him back.
His fling with rugby union and the Melbourne Rebels turned out to be brief. The heart of this AFL-draft hopeful has always belonged to the game he grew up with, but sometimes you don't always know what you've got until it's gone.
As an under-15, Apeness was playing representative football with TAC Cup club, Eastern Ranges, but wasn't enjoying it.
So in the search for something new, to quench his thirst for the ''bash and crash'' element of competitive sport, he followed a couple of South African-born friends to Box Hill Rugby Union Club.
At 200 centimetres, the Melbourne teenager has always been one of the first to catch the eye of talent scouts and it was the same in a sport he had only been playing for five minutes.
The Victorian representative team came calling and Apeness answered, impressing with performances along the way. What happened next is remembered as a regret and turning point.
In a club game for Box Hill, Apeness blew out one of his knees, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament. ''I was wearing really long metal studs and they stuck in the ground, and when I tackled the guy, my body twisted. But my leg stayed still,'' Apeness said.
Such was his potential, the Melbourne Rebels added him to their development squad anyway and allowed him to rehabilitate his knee under their guidance, hoping the atmosphere around him might cultivate a serious passion for his new hobby. Instead, it made him realise he actually longed for the AFL equivalent.
''After going there and enjoying that really intense, professional environment for a couple of months, I realised I missed out on some great opportunities in footy and I was also just missing the game as well,'' Apeness said.
So he went back to the Ranges, worked even harder to improve his knee and gripped his second chance as if he were bringing down a fly-half.
Apeness is the lesser-known twin of the Eastern Ranges key forward towers, but became first fiddle mid-season when predicted No. 1 draft pick Tom Boyd went down with injury. Apeness had barely tried his hand in the ruck until he was told that would be his position for Vic Metro at this year's under-18 championships. Now, he can't get enough of it.
''I love the physicality of it. I love the actual ruck contests themselves, I love competing,'' said Apeness, who also played gridiron.
Strong performances playing ruck and deep forward for Vic Metro was followed by a TAC Cup premiership with the Ranges, an invitation to this week's draft combine and interest from AFL clubs.
Although the knee injury he was forced to overcome will always taint his rugby days, Apeness can see the advantages of having such a skill set in his kitbag and takes heart watching ex-rugby converts in the AFL, such as Kieren Jack and Mike Pyke. ''You see those guys, they are tough and physical and they throw themselves at the contest,'' he said.