NEWCASTLE Jets coach Arthur Papas has "left the door open" for Ben Kantarovski and hopes the luckless midfielder can reignite his career despite having not played a game in two seasons.
Kantarovski, Newcastle's most-capped player with 196 A-League appearances, underwent complex surgery on his back in April last year.
The 30-year old had been troubled by recurring calf and hamstring issues before eventually opting for an operation to repair a problematic nerve in his lower back.
Unfortunately, the surgery has not provided a quick fix.
Kantarovski spent the 2021-22 A-League season undergoing rehabilitation.
His contract runs out at the end of next month but the Broadmeadow junior is not ready to give up, despite the option of a medical retirement and insurance payout.
"We have left the door open for Kanta," Papas said. "It is his call. I don't think anyone should try to convince someone to do that. The person has to be able to rest easy that they have done everything to get back.
"What we are doing is trying to support him. He has been at the club since he was 16 years old. We have offered him the resources and help he needs. We are supporting him through his rehab and seeing how that progresses."
Eli Babalj missed the final five games with plantar fasciitis. Like Kantarovski, the striker is off contract, but will continue to work with the Jets' medical staff.
"Our obligation is to get them back to full fitness," Papas said.
Kantarovski, a youth international, had been close to returning to full training at various stages last season.
"Every time we thought he was ready for the next step, there was a little setback," Papas said. "He is running again, but is still a considerable way off from playing.
"There is no doubting his quality. As time progresses, each injury adds up. I can't fault him for the application to try and work through his rehab no matter what setbacks he has faced."
When fit, Kantarovski has been one of the first names on the Jets' teamsheet.
A ball-winning defensive midfielder, he was central to the Jets' drive to the grand final under Ernie Merrick in 2018.
That followed knee surgery in 2016, one of many examples of Kantarovski's ability to bounce back from serious injury.
He needed a full reconstruction of his right knee in 2010, and had further surgeries on the same knee in 2012, 2014 and 2016.
Kantarovski has done the majority of his rehabilitation in the hands of the club's medical staff, away from the main squad.
"There have been catch-ups periodically," Papas said. "He works really closely with he medical staff, which is the most important part. We have fantastic staff. That is one thing where we are in a really good place - our medical and high performance staff. He is in great hands to try and give him a chance."
Meanwhile, industrious Jets midfielder Angus Thurgate has taken out the A-League's young player of the year award.
The 22-year-old was presented the gong at the Dolan-Warren award's ceremony in Sydney on Thursday night.
In a breakout season, Thurgate scored five goals and was a driving force in the centre of the park.
Melbourne Victory midfielder Jake Brimmer collected the Johnny Warren Medal as the A-League Men's best player, while Adelaide's Fiona Worts won the Julie Dolan Medallist.
Newcastle's Brazilian playmaker Daniel Penha was fifth in the medal count.
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