GETTING himself right has been a long, frustrating and on-going journey for Nathan Grima.
THE recovery from back surgery is one that is not only physical, but mental, even years down the track.
North Melbourne defender Nathan Grima is testament to that.
Three years after surgery on a bulging disc in his spine, the Evandale man admits it is a part of his body that he still has issues with and requires constant management, something that has only just allowed him to return to full training.
It has created a ``frustrating'' preseason for the 28-year-old. Grima has also had foot, knee and finger injuries during his career.
" Some days I feel great, but others very average, and when it does go or you bulge your disc again, you can't swim, you can't run, you can't do weights and you lose your conditioning very quickly."
``With my back, it is very much day-to-day,'' Grima told The Examiner at North Melbourne's Arden Street base last month.
``Some days I feel great, but others very average, and when it does go or you bulge your disc again, you can't swim, you can't run, you can't do weights and you lose your conditioning very quickly.
``When you are really sore with it, you're doing everything right. You think about your back day and night, you make sure you lift and sit with good posture and then you feel good and neglect how bad it can get.
``But then you can do something simple, for example I can just go and pick up my niece and nephew, or lift something in my backyard and you forget about your back. Little innocuous things like doing an exercise that you've done before can see you pulling up sore and set you back for a few weeks.''
For Grima, or Narni to those closest to him, the biggest challenge he was facing this preseason came from upstairs.
``When you see the guys slogging it out and long hot days, training well and improving and you're not out there the whole time, you do get a few question marks, but the reality is, I've proven I can play and I just need to get myself right.
``The reality is, I'm going to have problems with that disc for the rest of my life, it is just a matter of getting myself to the level required.
``When I can't get to that level, I'll do up the resume and get on to Seek and find a job, but I'm not in that place yet.''
That day is hopefully a long way down the track.
Even with this considerable hurdle in front of him, the 2007 preseason draft selection, who has played 72 games in the blue and white, won't shy away from his major goal for 2014.
The most games he has managed in a year is 17 (in 2010 and 2013). He wants to, at a minimum, better that figure.
``You don't want to be a bloke who has that question mark over himself, but the reality for me is that I've been here for seven years and the most games I've played in a year is 17,'' he said.
``A lot of my injuries over my career have been `bad luck' injuries, foot and knee injuries and the operation on my back, and have never had any soft-tissue problems, but at the end of the day people will say you are not durable.
``I'm 28, turning 29, and I just can't afford to have another injury-interrupted year. It is very competitive for spots and there are a lot of young guys coming through that could do the job that I do.
``(But) you have to get your body right for the right reasons, and you can base it on trying to stay ahead of a younger guy or looking over your shoulder, and what will be will be.''
Grima, who said he was hoping to be fit for the Kangaroos' NAB Challenge engagement against Hawthorn at Aurora Stadium on Friday, was confident that his best preseason won't be needed for him to perform against some of the league's best forwards when the real stuff starts.
When things do kick off, and for the Kangaroos that will be on March 21 against Essendon, North will be looking to build on its ``almost'' season, where it just missed the eight thanks to 11 losses by 16 points or less, with six in single figures.
With Nick Dal Santo coming on board through free agency, expectations are high.
``No one is getting ahead of themselves,'' Grima said.
``There's still a lot to work on.
``Our game plan has to evolve and we know what we need to work on as we have to get better defensively
``We're not kidding ourselves, we know we have a long way to go.
``When you see the likes of Hawthorn, Fremantle and Sydney play finals footy, it is just a step up from what we've played.
``But you have to believe, as if you don't believe you're going to go somewhere you're never going to get there.
``Without talking it up too much, we do believe we belong and that we can challenge anyone on our day.''