THERE were many minds in football who doubted whether Stephen Coniglio would ever rediscover his best form.
They pondered whether the captaincy dramas at Greater Western Sydney would hold him back or whether his body would do the same.
They wondered if the 200 game milestone would be reached somewhere else, too. Either back in his native Western Australia or as a result of being lured to Victoria by the big money offers.
Coniglio has always remained calm amid the storm. Aware of the noise, but never biting back at it.
This week, he becomes just the fourth drafted Giant to hit that mark in a season in which he has shone as brightly as any other.
The plaudits may not be as plentiful as at other times in his distinguished career but Coniglio in 2023 is sixth in the competition for disposals and fifth for score involvements.
He has bounced back in a massive way, when many had written him off.
"When I went through that spell, the first thing you need to be is honest with yourself. When it wasn't working, I was thinking about redemption and all that stuff," Coniglio said.
"And what was most important was just getting back to basics and surrounding myself and my thoughts with good feelings again. I'm just loving playing, loving being coached by Adam (Kingsley) and the group at the moment.
"It's a very special feeling. The only thing I can really compare it to is how it felt in 2015, '16, '17."
It may just be Coniglio's best season ever. He may be in the discussions, at the least, for a first All-Australian blazer.
He feels it's definitely the best campaign in terms of simply playing his role across a whole season, in a side that is on a massive upwards trajectory.
A finals spot may be secured by the time Greater Western Sydney takes to the field at Marvel Stadium against Carlton on Sunday. If not, a win against the Blues will ensure that.
Regardless of what transpires, Coniglio and the Giants are back in the premiership conversation over the next few seasons and the retirement of long-time teammate and former captain Phil Davis this week, has hammered home the need to strike soon.
"I think a lot of what he (Davis) said the other day really resonated with me, particularly with the (premiership) chances that we've had," Coniglio said.
"We know it's not possible every year, but just how quick time goes for me and guys like Toby (Greene) and Josh (Kelly), we're impatient to see it come through.
"But I'd also say the future is very bright. When you look at guys like Tom Green and Lachie Ash, they're starting to become established names in the competition.
"So, from our perspective it is impatience. We very much want it now, but we're under no illusions that the future's very bright for the club no matter what."
Whether the Giants can achieve the ultimate success or not, the plan at the end of the 2019 Grand final season was for Coniglio to be the on-field leader to take them there.
The captaincy move didn't quite work out but in line with his attitude to those who have knocked his game in the past, there has been no semblance of bitterness.
"Not at all. It's probably the proudest moment I've ever had, being named captain of this club," said.
"There are lots of things I'd love to have back, but at the same time it sits with me perfectly and I'm happy with my role in the group.
"To be honest, Toby's one of my best mates at the club and I couldn't be happier that he's been able to do it at such a level where he should be All-Australian captain next week. To be able to help him and see what he's been able to do both as a leader and as a player, is almost more satisfying."
You don't have to spend much time around the Giants to see the bond between the likes of Coniglio, Greene, Kelly, Cal Ward, Nick Haynes and Lachie Whitfield.
They’ve been teammates for over a decade, and bar Kelly who is still six games shy and Ward who achieved it last season, they will all bring up the 200 game milestone at the Giants within weeks of each other.
They've also stayed loyal at the Giants, despite big money offers from elsewhere including Coniglio, who turned down the likes of Carlton and Hawthorn at the end of 2019.
"It was a funny time. In my mind it was always going to be at the Giants (playing 200 games) and while there was probably external noise and maybe even some internal, I always felt quite confident that it would be here," he said.
He will bring up the landmark in Victoria in a mammoth encounter against Carlton that can seal a September spot, and it's no surprise some special guests will be making the trip across.
"There'll be a few on the flights coming over from Perth, my Nonna who is 89, about to turn 90 is a special addition. She doesn't get over to many games, so it'll be nice to see her this week, there’ll be a fair few Italians making the trip over."