Robbie Gray and Heath Shaw. Picture Sarah Reed
Robbie Gray and Heath Shaw. Picture Sarah Reed

Gray gets to 200 after facing darkest hour

Robbie Gray is still pinching himself.

He started his AFL journey simply hoping he would get to play at least one big-league game when he joined Port Adelaide as a fourth-round draftee in 2006.

And the Power superstar - and many others - thought it was all over at Game No. 70 when Gray suffered a horrific right-knee injury in the final moments of the Round 4 clash with Collingwood at the Docklands on April 21, 2012.

Seven years later, Gray returns to his Victorian home base on Saturday to play his 200th AFL game - against Melbourne at the MCG - knowing his darkest hour was also the moment that made him one of the league's elite players from draft call No. 55.

Gray, 30, on Thursday reflected on how that nightmare on the concrete deck of Melbourne's Docklands forced him to work harder - and smarter - rather than rely on his sublime talent.

Port Adelaide star Robbie Gray will play his 200th game this weekend. Picture: Mark Brake/Getty Images
Port Adelaide star Robbie Gray will play his 200th game this weekend. Picture: Mark Brake/Getty Images

"I would not have made the changes (to his off-field preparation) if not for that knee injury," Gray said.

"It was a massive turning point ... I became more professional and more pedantic about things."

Gray returned to AFL circles in Round 4, 2013 - after the recuperation from major knee and calf surgery took longer than hoped - to become a sounder player. He has played at least 19 games in every since his comeback.

"I had so many issues with my body," Gray said. "But in that year off, I got my body in shape."

Port Adelaide injures his knee at Etihad Stadium in 2012.
Port Adelaide injures his knee at Etihad Stadium in 2012.

It was a far from simple recovery considering Gray could not start running for seven months after the surgery - and it was not the knee that was the major issue.

"They (the surgeons) were always pretty optimistic (with the knee). But the nerve damage with the calf was pretty serious - and that was not known until the surgery," on SEN1629 on Thursday morning.

"They fixed it up during the surgery ... but the calf muscle was not growing back. It was like a toothpick. I was putting in so much work in the gym, but it was not going anywhere."

Since his return, Gray has added to his resume three John Cahill Medals as the Power club champion (2014, 2015 and 2016), four All-Australian honours (2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018) and the Port Adelaide leading goalkicker title last season while also working in the midfield.

"It's a bit strange reflecting a little bit this week," Gray said.

"I definitely didn't think I would be sitting here (for my 200th game) when I came over (to Port Adelaide) all those years ago.

"When I first came over, I was hoping to play one game.

"To still be here, all these years later, and playing my 200th game is very special."

Gray is to become a major source of support for another Port Adelaide player dealing with a serious injury - and difficult recovery.

Power forward Charlie Dixon is recovering from another round of surgery to his right ankle that was dislocated while he also broke his right leg in a marking contest against West Coast at Adelaide Oval in Round 21 last year.

"There have been a few ups and downs for Charles," Gray said as Port Adelaide remains uncertain when its key forward will return to training, let alone football action.

"He started running outside and there were a few setbacks that put him back a bit. They've fixed up a few things (with arthroscopic surgery this week) and that will put his rehab back a little bit.

"There is no time frame (for Dixon's return from an injury that at worst could require a 10-month recovery phase)."