AFL's Cunnington eyes return to best

Ben Cunnington is eyeing a return to his best and a full complement of games in 2023 but will not put his hand up for the vacant North Melbourne captaincy.

Cunnington underwent surgery to remove a testicular tumour in July 2021. Months later he was undergoing chemotherapy after a check-up detected a secondary cancer.

The diagnoses and a long-term back injury in 2020 have restricted the midfielder to 20 games across the last three seasons, including only two in 2022.

The 31-year-old's enthusiasm has not waned despite his difficult three years and he remains confident he can play his best football under new coach Alastair Clarkson.

"My love and passion (for the game) is definitely at an all-time high, but I just don't want to be complacent and rest on that," he said.

"I still feel like I have some good footy to give. The club has been great with looking after me so far through pre-season and the body is holding up.

"I'm expecting to play some of my best footy."

Cunnington has been on the North Melbourne leadership group since 2020 but will not nominate for the captaincy, which has been relinquished by Jack Ziebell after six seasons.

Cunnington believes either of last year's vice captains - Jy Simpkin and Luke McDonald - would make a good skipper.

"I don't think I'm the one to go captain," he said.

"We've got a few candidates that could definitely fill Ziebs' void perfectly. We'll just have to wait and see.

"Definitely those two (Simpkin and McDonald) probably get the attention and they're both great leaders in their own right. Whatever way we go, the club will be in good hands."

The new captain will be tasked with lifting the Kangaroos out of the doldrums but things are already looking up under four-time premiership-winning coach Clarkson.

"The knowledge he brings and just his personality, he's got a good balance. He's got the boys buying in," Cunnington said.

"We're a lot clearer with the way we want to play and with that it enables guys to play more on instinct rather than being overwhelmed and thinking too much and hesitating."