A mid-season quad rupture, tendon repair surgery and a minimum eight weeks on the sidelines: it was the disheartening blow Zak Jones wasn’t expecting just two months into his second season as a Saint.
It was only seven weeks prior that the tough on-baller had overcome a pre-season hamstring injury which saw him miss Round 1.
After a brief stint on the sidelines, the seasoned professional rebounded back to arguably career-best form. The Silk Miller Memorial Medal performance which saw him collect 37-disposals and two-goals followed by a match-winning 31 touches against Gold Coast was proof that the bull was back.
But his momentum was briefly shot when the last kick at training went wrong and Jones heard a ‘pop’ that put the remainder of his season on the line.
Facing the threat of yet another long-term injury setback, Jones found himself in a position that could be enough to mentally derail any athlete.
But the No. 3 refused to make his time away from the action any longer than it needed to be.
“Every time Jonesy’s had an injury, he’s basically nearly returned straight into the AFL team off just the work he’s been able to do in rehab,” Seb Ross told saints.com.au.
“I think it just says that he’s a pro and that he understands what it takes to play consistent AFL footy.
“You don’t see that too often. The way he attacks his rehab and prepares his mind and body to be able to come straight in and not look out of place with his run and drive is a real credit to his professionalism.”
Right on schedule, Jones was named for St Kilda’s Round 17 match against Brisbane. Appearing as if he hadn’t skipped a single beat, Jones put on a performance that made it impossible to tell he’d been out for eight weeks.
The 26-year-old came out swinging in super effect, collecting twenty-six disposals (13 contested) and a game-high 10 clearances from just over 60 percent game-time.
He was one of the best on ground in the Saints’ five-goal win.
His fighting spirit continued to show in fiery displays against West Coast (32 disposals) and Carlton (30), and despite a quiet game against Port Adelaide (14), his effort and passion across the remainder of the season was unquestionable.
Jones’ courage and exertion can be easily identified on the field through his work rate from contest to contest, but it’s his work off it - particularly on the training track and throughout his rehab - that is just as impressive and important.
While some qualities made Jones a frustrating opponent prior to his trade to the Saints, such as his competitiveness and constant in-ear chat (quick to rile up the likes of Jimmy Webster) his honest approach is now a welcome addition at RSEA Park.
The contrast between his on-field fire and off-field demeanour – his white-line fever which Ross thinks was born from his backyard sessions with older brothers Nathan and Josh – has become a valuable asset over the past two seasons.
“With Zak what you see is what you get,” Saints and former Swans teammate Tim Membrey told saints.com.au.
“100 percent of the time at training he’s cracking in. There’s no off button and I know the physios and coaches get a little bit nervous at times because they want him to just take it easy.
“When he’s out there training, he’s giving it his all. The way he communicates, it’s very direct and that’s something that we need. It’s been really good for us as a team.
“That just speaks about what type of person he is, what he’s like around the club and what he wants to get around his career.”