It's been a bumpy ride for Tory Dickson and the Western Bulldogs this season, but both appear to be headed in the right direction at the right time.
The 12th-placed Dogs are just one win out of the AFL top eight and can enhance their finals credentials with a win over Melbourne at Marvel Stadium on Sunday.
Luke Beveridge's men looked set for another lost season as they slumped to seven losses from nine games from round three through to round 11, with Dickson sent back to the VFL during that stretch.
Having played his 100th AFL game in a round four loss to Collingwood, Dickson was dropped after a goalless outing in a 47-point thumping of Richmond three rounds later.
"I was probably down on form a little bit in a couple of areas in my game," Dickson said.
"I'm not judged on goals or possessions, it's more to do with my defensive actions (up forward) and getting back to help out the defence with my running capabilities.
"Also, it's to do with contests and there were little things in my game that I had to improve.
"The goals come from all of those defensive actions, so I went back and worked on those things and got my opportunity again."
A stint in the VFL is a small setback for Dickson after the hardship he endured following the 2016 premiership.
He was beset by groin and hamstring injuries that limited him to 17 games in two seasons, but he credits the club's medical staff for getting back in top shape for this campaign.
His AFL return after the bye coincided with a turnaround in form for the Bulldogs, which has seen them win three of their past four matches, with their last two victories upset wins over Port Adelaide and Geelong.
"We've been gelling really well, we've had a really strong month of football," Dickson said.
"Even in that Collingwood game when we didn't get the win we did a lot right.
"It's pleasing for a young group to experience that and enjoy some continuity in the football that they're playing.
"There's some good young kids coming through who are playing some great football, we just seem to have a good balance."
Australian Associated Press