ESSENDON star Zach Merrett faces a stern test of his improved ability to cope with tags in Sunday's big match against rivals North Melbourne.
Merrett's All Australian form last year inevitably meant a target on his back for opposition taggers.
He was struggling earlier this season, most recently against Ed Curnow in the upset round eight loss to Carlton.
But the midfielder had at least 24 possessions in his next five games.
He racked up 30, including 11 contested possessions, in last week's upset win over West Coast.
"It's been different – obviously you grow up just running around getting a kick and then you run into the AFL," Merrett said.
"You try to earn the respect of your teammates and try to get a kick again, and then to be followed by someone from the opposition trying to stop you every week is a bit of an adjustment.
"It's been a great learning curve.
"There have obviously been ups and downs along that journey ... I've been beaten by some taggers and beaten some as well.
"It's always a fun contest, going head-to-head."
Merrett said coping with taggers remains a work in progress.
He's certain to have close attention on Sunday from North's go-to stopper Ben Jacobs.
"I'm not going to say I've fully adapted but I'm learning things on the go and I'm certainly seeking out a lot of feedback," he said.
"I'm not going to win every battle but I'm going to try and win as much as I can."
It's well known two-time Brownlow medallist Chris Judd mentors Merrett, while Bombers coach John Worsfold and assistant Hayden Skipworth are also sounding boards.
After winning four of its past five games, Essendon is back in the finals hunt.
It is two games behind eighth-placed North, adding extra importance to Sunday's clash.
"It doesn't count for much if you just play one good week," Merrett said of the big win over the Eagles.
"The position we put ourselves in earlier in the year means we have to keep winning ... to have a crack at the end of the season."