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Back to the future for reliable Tiger defender

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 23: Nick Vlastuin of the Tigers in action during the 2017 AFL round 18 match between the Richmond Tigers and the GWS Giants at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 23, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Nick Vlastuin picked off the Giants at every turn last Sunday
I'm actually more nervous in the stands watching than I am playing
Nick Vlastuin

RICHMOND defender Nick Vlastuin is happy to return to the backline role he had made his own in recent seasons after a shoulder injury earlier this year cut his midfield move short. 

Vlastuin was among the Tigers' best players against Greater Western Sydney in his second game back from a 10-week lay-off, controlling the backline with 21 possessions, 11 marks and 13 intercepts.

The 23-year-old was earmarked for a role rotating between the midfield and half-forward pre-season, but he looks set to remain in defence as the top-four Tigers charge towards the finals.

Big Tiger still in the finals picture

"With Reece Conca going out, he was in awesome form, so we just needed another back there," Vlastuin told AFL.com.au.  

"Then Dusty (Martin) and (Trent) Cotchin were going really well in the midfield and (Kane) Lambert has really stepped up there too.

"I probably wouldn't get a game if I wanted to get back in there, so I might just stay at half-back I think.

"With (Alex) Rance, (Dylan) Grimes and (David) Astbury all in career-best form it makes the job pretty easy, and I've obviously played the last couple of years back there." 

Vlastuin has finished top 10 in the Tigers' past two Jack Dyer Medal counts (ninth in 2016 and equal sixth in 2015), establishing himself as a reliable small defender with leadership qualities. 

He showcased his versatility by playing on both Toby Greene (182cm) and Rory Lobb (207cm) against the Giants, dropping off his man when needed to provide support.    

After missing six weeks with his shoulder injury, Vlastuin returned through the VFL in round 14 but pulled up sore and was back on the sidelines for another match.

He made his AFL return against the Brisbane Lions in round 17 and has slotted into the back six seamlessly.    

"I'm actually more nervous in the stands watching than I am playing, so it's good to be back out there," Vlastuin said.  

"After the games I would always get a bit jealous of the boys when they won and sang the song, so it's good to be back in the circle."

Coach Damien Hardwick said Vlastuin should take enormous confidence from his performance against the Giants, which underlined his importance to the team. 

"I know our backs were happy to have him back," the coach said.   

"We did try him in the midfield and we love some things he did in there, but he looks naturally at home down back at the moment. 

"Certainly he'll be knocking on my door at some stage to get another go in there."