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Midfield Dog 'can be an A-grader', says Bevo

Midfielder Toby McLean shone for the Dogs in their win over the Suns - AFL,Western Bulldogs,Toby McLean,Luke Beveridge
Midfielder Toby McLean shone for the Dogs in their win over the Suns
He could be considered externally as one of the better midfielders in the competition if he keeps on this journey
Luke Beveridge on Toby McLean

RE-SIGNING superstar Marcus Bontempelli is clearly the biggest list management priority for the Western Bulldogs, but locking away fellow young gun Toby McLean should be a close second in the club's player-retention strategy.

Both will fall out of contract at the end of 2019, and while the 'Bont' duly deserves the multi-season, multi-million dollar deal he is reportedly negotiating, McLean can expect to sign a much longer and more lucrative extension than the two-year contract he is on.

McLean's growing importance to the Dogs was no more evident than when Bontempelli was a late withdrawal from last weekend's win over Gold Coast. The 22-year-old picked up the midfield slack and delivered arguably his best performance of his 45 games in the red, white and blue.

"I thought I contributed a bit more than I have done in the past few weeks, which is good," McLean told AFL.com.au.

"I thought Mitch Wallis, Jack Macrae and myself worked really well in there together with 'Bonti' out, so we knew we had to step up.

"It was statistically my best game of my career, but I'm just trying to improve every week."

In that productive afternoon in Ballarat, the midfielder collected a career-high 33 disposals at 83 per cent efficiency and laid a team-high 13 tackles. The performance is a great reflection of a player who is finding the right balance between attack and defence.

Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge forecast such an evolution in McLean's game and believes he has the tools to join Bontempelli as one of the AFL's elite playmakers.

"The A-graders of the competition have a great combination of speed and endurance and they're finishers or direct-assist players, and Toby can be one of those players," Beveridge told AFL.com.au in March.

"He's also got some aggression in his game and we covet that, so he could be considered externally as one of the better midfielders in the competition if he keeps on this journey."

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While flattered by his Beveridge's lavish praise, a modest McLean isn't buying into the hype around his progress, despite his stats supporting his coach's bold prediction.

The premiership Bulldog is 10th in the AFL for handballs, equal 17th for tackles, 18th for clearances, score involvements and running bounces and 20th for effective disposals.

"I think being becoming an A-grader is a bit of stretch because I'm just trying to play consistently every week," he said.

"I've been working on the balance in my game because last year I was playing better on the inside, so I'm working on my outside game more this season.

"I'm looking to beat my opponent on the inside and then spread from the contest a lot better.

"I tend to handball a bit more, but I think I have improved my field kicking because I've made it a priority."

While Bontempelli is expected to pen to paper sooner than later, the Bulldog faithful can rest easy that McLean is almost certain to do likewise.

"The Dogs have looked after me and I definitely can't see myself at any other club," he said.

"The more games you play, the more comfortable you are around the place, so I feel like I belong here.

"This is where I definitely want to be."

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