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Filling Lake's role

Adam McNicol  February 8, 2013 9:15 AM

Bulldogs hit Hamilton The Western Bulldogs venture to Hamilton for their community camp

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YOUNG key position player Michael Talia has emerged as a key contender to replace Brian Lake in the Western Bulldogs' backline.

The 20-year-old was eased through his first pre-season at the club, then played four AFL games in his debut campaign.

But he has taken on the full program this summer and has thrived on the extra work.

"I've completed every session actually, so it's been good," Talia told AFL.com.au during the Bulldogs' Australia Post Community Camp in the western Victorian town of Hamilton.

"It's been a really big step up from last pre-season. It's been full-on.

"I've pretty much been doing five weights sessions a week on top of five running sessions, plus core work
.
"'Macca' (Dogs coach Brendan McCartney) set me a focus to really work hard in the gym and on my running, so I've worked very hard.

"But my body is feeling better than ever at the moment, and hopefully the hard work pays off this year."

Talia, whose older brother Daniel has become a star at Adelaide and won the 2012 NAB Rising Star award, has added 5kg to his 192cm frame during the pre-season.

Now tipping the scales at 93kg, he is confident that he has the bulk and power to match it with the competition's best power forwards.

"I've been competing a lot against big blokes like Jordan Roughead at training," Talia said.

"So I definitely feel like I could play on a bigger-type forward and handle it better in my second year.

"But building up my body has been a balancing act. I got to 94kg and the dietician wanted me to hold back a bit, so it's just a matter of not putting it on too quickly."

Not only has Talia gained bulk, he has also gained plenty of power.

"Our new strength and conditioning guy, Andy Barnett, has been really good with that," he explained.

"He has implemented new running techniques and has definitely changed my perception of the way to attack a sprint session.

"We've been doing a lot of resistance work and agility work. When we did 20m sprint testing I got a sub-three-second time for the first time ever.

"So I definitely feel like I've got quicker as well, as have many of the other boys.

"The average of time for our backline group in the 20m sprint testing was under three seconds.

"Lin Jong broke the record with 2.76secs, so he was flying."

Like the other members of the Dogs' backline, Talia has spent time working with Geelong champion Matthew Scarlett, who has taken on a part-time assistant coaching role at the club.

And Talia is keen to put his new tricks to the test when the Bulldogs open their NAB Cup campaign with shortened games against Essendon and Collingwood at Etihad Stadium on Friday, February 15.

"I now know a lot more about what it takes to be a regular performer in an elite environment," he said.

"I'm not putting any over-the-top expectations on myself at the moment.

"But I definitely see myself playing more games this year, and hopefully I'm lucky enough to get the chance to."

Adam McNicol covers Western Bulldogs news for AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter at @AFL_AdamMcNicol