Rory Lobb kicks for goal during the R14 match between Western Bulldogs and Fremantle at Marvel Stadium on June 15, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

RORY Lobb thought he was getting replaced. Instead, he was getting remade.

When the whiteboard came out midway through last Wednesday's main training to spell out the teams for that day's match simulation session, there was Lobb's name camped at full-forward in the reserves side. It was a deflating feeling.

The game before, he'd played arguably his best match in Bulldogs colours. He'd won 19 disposals, kicked three goals and taken six marks playing as a ruck-forward against his former side Fremantle. But that was a fortnight ago. Aaron Naughton was back from a knee injury. Sam Darcy was back from suspension. Had the bye in between stunted his momentum? Lobb was sure he was returning to the VFL.

But towards the end of training, when the onlooking media had been asked to pack up their cameras and leave, Dogs coach Luke Beveridge walked over to Lobb and his opponent James O'Donnell with a message: "Swap bibs." Suddenly, the roles had been flipped and he was acting as a key defender against the equally as versatile O'Donnell.

Lobb's first instinct might have been to question the call. After all, he couldn't quite remember the last time he'd been asked to play as a defender throughout his 11-year career at AFL level – even at training. But if this was the way Lobb would keep his spot in the side, then he set about grasping it.

"When you see your name on the twos whiteboard, it's a bit flattening," Lobb told from the Whitten Oval this week.

Rory Lobb marks the ball during the match between North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium in round 16, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

"Usually, it does mean you're getting dropped and I hadn't spoken to 'Bevo' for those two weeks (over the bye) coming into training. But he spoke to me straight after and said he wanted to try me as a back. He said I'd played too well the previous game to be dropped, so I was very grateful."

What resulted was somewhat of a revelation. Lobb had 16 disposals, eight marks, five intercept marks and 12 intercept possessions in a win over North Melbourne. It culminated in the 206cm tall being the Dogs' third highest-rated player on the ground, behind only Marcus Bontempelli and Ed Richards.

Having spent the 24 hours before the match cramming in as much backline study as he could with teammate Liam Jones – himself a natural forward, converted mid-career into being a defender – Lobb can now see a life in the backline as his future. He feels at home in defence, is again expected to line up there against Port Adelaide on Saturday, and is even learning to dish it back to his former friends in attack.

"I have full confidence," Lobb said of being a defender.

"Obviously, 'Jonesy' has got a lot more speed than I do, but I've got the length. I've got a little bit of the length to help me out with that. He really gets into my head around playing very assertively.

Rory Lobb and Toby Pink compete for the ball during the Western Bulldogs' clash against North Melbourne in round 16, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

"I had a bit of a crash course on how to play back, but 'Jonesy' essentially told me to play like I was a forward and I'd know when to defend. That was also what 'Bevo' said to me. I basically just tried to read it like I was playing forward. Obviously, I feel really good in the contest and being a back, you're initiating the contest a little bit more and the bodywork. As much as I can pick 'Jonesy's' brain on the way he goes about it, I've just tried to emulate as much as I can from what he does.

"But Jamarra (Ugle-Hagan) is already giving it to me, saying I'm a failed forward gone back. I used to say the exact same stuff to the backs, so now I'm trying to give it back to the forwards as much as I can."

Lobb's campaign to that point had been a frustrating one. Having started the season out of the senior side, he'd featured just three times in 13 weeks before earning a reprieve when Naughton hurt his knee against Sydney and Darcy was suspended for a late bump against Collingwood the following week.

Despite some solid VFL form – he'd kicked 17 goals from seven matches with Footscray this year – he knew that opportunities were proving hard to come by. At 31 years of age, and with two seasons remaining on his contract, it wasn't a position he wanted to find himself in.

"It was obviously challenging," Lobb said.

Rory Lobb of the Bulldogs handpasses the ball during the 2024 VFL Round 2 match between the Casey Demons and Footscray Bulldogs at Casey Fields. Picture: Rob Lawson/AFL Photos

"Everyone wants to be playing AFL, but there's only 23 that can go out there every week. When I went back to the VFL, I just tried to get around those boys and tried to keep a positive mindset and go out there and play footy as best as I could.

"Obviously, I wanted to be playing AFL. But, at the time, it wasn't best for the team. Hopefully I can find my spot as a back for now and if I have to go forward, I have to go forward. It'll depend on what we need.

"There are boys that miss out every week. If I was to go down to the VFL and sook it up, it's not a good example. Especially being such a senior player. I just tried to keep that positive mindset. We all want to be playing AFL, but the reality is we can't every week. Obviously, now I've got that spot as a back I'll be doing everything I can to stay in the team."

Speculation swirled around Lobb's future during his extended stints in the VFL, with the prospect of a move to a fourth club – having already represented Greater Western Sydney and the Dockers – suddenly becoming a real possibility, despite a contract at the Whitten Oval that lasts through until 2026.

Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Rory Lobb celebrate a goal during the Western Bulldogs' clash against Fremantle in round 14, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

But it might become a moot topic, should Lobb stay in the Bulldogs' plans during the latter stages of the season. Whether he cements his place in Beveridge's setup as a defender, forward, ruck – or even as a wing – is irrelevant in his mind, as long as he's playing regularly at AFL level.

"Yeah, of course (I see my future at the Bulldogs)," Lobb said.

"I'm just happy and I want to play AFL. If it's down back, up forward, in the ruck ... it honestly doesn't worry me. People have always said that I hate the ruck, but I've never said that. Ever. Not once in my career. I may have mentioned that in the early days it took me away from the long down the line stuff that I was good at. But I've always been happy. If I have to play ruck, I'll do it as hard as I can.

"It's the same forward, it's the same back. If I find my spot as a back, I'm happy to play there for the rest of my career. I honestly don't mind.

"Funnily enough, the wing is probably my favourite position because I can just run up and down and I'm not getting smacked by anyone. You can just run. You're that link between the forwards and the backs. I really like that position."

Rory Lobb is tackled by Cam Rayner during the Western Bulldogs' clash against Brisbane in round 13, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Lobb was brought to the Western Bulldogs at the end of the 2022 season in a mentoring role for the club's talented crop of key forwards. At the time, Naughton was about to turn 23 years of age, Ugle-Hagan was only 20, while Darcy was just 19.

But their growth has been rapid. Naughton has since signed through until 2032, Ugle-Hagan is widely recognised among the most gifted youngsters in the competition, while Darcy was one of the Telstra AFL Rising Star favourites before suspension ruined his chances. Their improvement left Lobb feeling somewhat in the wilderness when he was dropped to the VFL to start the year.

"I saw the list and I saw the midfield," Lobb said of his move from Fremantle.

"Those boys are obviously really young, but they've developed really quickly. It was more about coming here and helping them develop as forwards, but then they've just developed so quickly that now there's too many of us.

"They've been unbelievable. Jamarra had a career-best year last year and I've played alongside him a lot and 'Naughty' is the beast that he is. He's got a good head on him for the age that he is. He's obviously a leader at the footy club.

"Then I see a lot of myself in Sam. He just flies for his marks and he's that long down the line player, which is what I was at the start of my career and then I turned myself into a bit of a lead-up player. He's just got so much working for him and I'm really looking forward to seeing how he can develop."

Sam Darcy and Rory Lobb celebrate a goal during the Western Bulldogs' clash against Fremantle in round seven, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

It's made for another season in the headlines for Lobb, with VFL stints, potential trade requests and even TikToks landing the athletic big man in the news. But he's hoping his move into the backline can ensure a few positive stories throughout the second half of the club's campaign.

"I guess I've been in a lot of headlines over my career," Lobb said.

"Whether it's from me or just things that come up, I find that I don't really look at the media too much. The stuff that I actually do see is when family and friends ask me if I'm OK. I actually don't read most of the stuff that comes through, which is the balance you want.

"You don't want to be on social media reading that stuff because you're never as bad as they reckon and you're never as good as they reckon, that's the way I've gone about it. The highs that I have, I've had a couple of good weeks, but I'm still the same person that I want to be at the footy club. The lows, I'm still trying to keep that same attitude throughout.


"I've found a way to just go about my weeks the way I want to go about my weeks. Whatever happens on the weekend, I try and keep it separate. I think that's helped me over my whole journey. It's not reading into too much and just trying to stay as balanced as I can throughout the weeks."

That mindset change – and his ability to succeed as a key defender – could prove crucial in Lobb achieving his ultimate goal throughout the second half of the season: playing consistently at senior level.

"I want to be playing AFL," Lobb said.

"If I go down to the twos, I try to play the footy I want to play to get back in the team. Obviously, I want to string games together. It's been a bit of an in and out year, but hopefully I've found my spot down back and I can play the rest of the year in the AFL."