IT is almost a year to the day since Johnny Koutroumbis was named on the bench in his return for the Jets, just six weeks after having surgery to remove a cancerous thyroid gland.
Koutroumbis didn't take the field against Melbourne City that weekend. His first appearance back was in a 2-all draw with Brisbane in round 12 on January 2.
The 21-year-old defender finished with 14 games for the campaign, all in the XI.
Koutroumbis requires daily medication - a synthetic replacement for the hormone that would have been produced by his thyroid gland - but is in the best shape of his life.
"It's behind me, but at the same time I am always reminded of it," he said. "It was a good learning curve for a lot of aspects in life. I definitely look at life in a different picture now. I have learnt to take care of my body much better than I did before."
The health scare also made Koutroumbis more resilient on and off the field.
"You can go through anything and bounce back," he said. "One bad game plays on your mind, but it's how you react to it."
By his own admission, Koutroumbis' form was down in the opening rounds.
"To be honest, I haven't had the best start to the season," he said. "But I feel like we have all gelled together and we know what we want from each other. I feel like I am getting better as the season goes by. Ernie has put his faith in me, and I want to prove him right that I can play each week. I always look over my games and analyse what I did wrong and what I did right. Training hard is one of the main things as is eating healthy and making sure my body is ready for every weekend."
Baring a mishap, Koutroumbis will be named at left back for the trip to his home town to take on Adelaide United at Coopers Stadium on Sunday.
"Whenever I go home it is always a pleasure to play in front of mum and dad and see all the family," said Koutroumbis, who played in the youth team for Adelaide before lured to Newcastle in 2016 by then Jets coach Mark Jones. "They haven't seen me play professionally as much as they would have liked."
The Reds sit in third spot on 12 points, four points above the Jets who have played one less game.
"They are a very structured team," Koutroumbis said. "They counter attack very well and we have to watch those fast breaks forward. If we play with the same hard work and determination of the past two weeks, I think anything is possible."
Captain Nigel Boogaard is getting closer to a return but coach Ernie Merrick is unlikely to make many if any changes after consecutive wins over Western United (1-0) and Western Sydney (2-0).
"Ernie was impressed with our work rate and we got the stats today and it confirmed that we all worked pretty hard on and off the ball," Koutroumbis said. "They had a few chances but we defended well and defended with our lives. You can say it's luck, but sometimes you have to create your own luck. We have gelled as a team, we work for each other and the chemistry is there."