Inspirational Shinboner Ben Cunnington has ticked off a major box in his efforts to make an AFL return, turning out for North Melbourne's VFL outfit on Sunday at Arden Street.

While the Kangaroos fell short of the Sydney Swans by 20 points in the affair played out at their spiritual home and training base, the result remained secondary for all that filed into the gum-laden outer, with a chance to welcome the 31-year-old back to the huddle their duty.

The hard-as-nails midfielder has not laced the boots at senior level since the Kangaroos' Round 19 defeat to Carlton last season after being forced out of action due to his diagnosis, and subsequent fight, with testicular cancer.

Although Cunnington could be forgiven for any rust shown, the veteran wasted no time stamping his brand, winning the opening clearance of the contest.

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As morning turned to afternoon and the former first-round draftee put his fitness to the test for the first time in over a year, Cunnington battled manfully alongside many of his youngest teammates, ending the afternoon with 18 disposals, four marks and three tackles.

Ahead of the spiritual leader's return, North Melbourne's interim coach, Leigh Adams, explained that while Cunnington held a desire to be dropped straight into the Roos' senior side, he would have to wait at least a week before the fairytale was complete.

"I'm pretty sure I know what his preference will be, and the coach's preference," Adams said of Cunnington's ambitions.

"At this time of year, it's a great story for us, for the motivation of the group and for the footy club really. It's been an amazing journey which will hopefully be capped off.

"It's more his soft tissue stuff now. Having that calf setback three or four weeks ago and missing a fair chunk of work there.

"Playing back through the VFL we can manage his minutes, we can take him on and off whenever we feel like it, the intensity is probably not at the same level and we've ticked that box with a bit of due diligence."

With a fortnight left before North's latest season at the most southern point of the ladder comes to a close, the club's loyal band of members will be desperate to be sent into summer with a feel-good story.

And although Adams and his staff will run their eyes over the footage and tick off their litany of key performance indicators, it would take a brave steward to hold the bull at the gate any longer.

Adams' senior outfit are currently locked in battle with John Longmire's premiership aspirants at Marvel Stadium, with fixtures against Adelaide (A) and Gold Coast (H) remaining on the Roos' schedule.

Cunnington has made 227 appearances in a North Melbourne guernsey since joining the club ahead of the 2010 season.

The Geelong Falcons product's unparalleled will and genuine steel have seen him earn a pair of Syd Barker Medals following stellar seasons in both 2014 and 2019.