MARCUS Bontempelli is feeling fit again.
Having dealt with a nagging hip injury last season, which even he concedes had an impact on his performance, the Western Bulldogs superstar is back in peak condition.
The result is a mouth-watering proposition for Luke Beveridge and the Bulldogs. It's also a daunting prospect for the remainder of the competition.
Marcus Bontempelli takes a screamer against the Hawks in round two. Picture: Getty Images
A slight tweak to his role late last season, which saw Bontempelli become more of a full-time midfielder, has also reaped massive benefits both individually and for the team.
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Champion Data notes the 23-year-old is now spending 8 per cent more game time in the midfield from last season, with that significant leap borne out his improved numbers.
From a purely statistical perspective, Bontempelli is averaging career highs in disposals, marks, clearances, tackles, inside 50s, score involvements and metres gained through the first month of the campaign.
Meanwhile, the four most prolific games of Bontempelli's career – which have yielded 35, 37, 34 and 36 disposals respectively – have come from his last seven matches.
It's something he puts down to his increased midfield minutes.
"It's time spent around the ball," Bontempelli told AFL.com.au.
"Earlier this year and later last year, I spent larger chunks of games as a pure midfielder.
"It's probably a little bit of that and a little bit of growth as well. Then my teammates and their growth and how much better they're getting. It's making us all improve as players across the board. That has a little bit of an impact on it.
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"Possessions are always an important side of the game, but I've always valued my use of the ball and how I'm able to generate scores from possessions.
"As long as I'm still providing that, and other players are too, then hopefully that's helping us get more scores and impact the game better."
Then there's his fitness.
Bontempelli missed three games last year through injury, withdrawn from the round seven clash with Gold Coast due to a hip complaint that bothered him throughout the campaign before missing two more matches later in the year after having his appendix removed.
While he is keen to avoid blaming such issues entirely for a stuttering start to last season, he does concede they played some part in his inconsistent spell of form.
"Any injury or any soreness or any overhanging niggle is going to have some level of contribution to your output at times," Bontempelli said.
"There were probably times when I would have liked to have played better. How much emphasis you put on soreness … it's really hard to put it down to that.
"I felt like every time I went out there, I was capable of playing well and contributing. For me, that's where it stops. I was out there, I was ready to play and although I was a bit sorer than I wanted to be, it's just the way the game goes."
Bontempelli is now part of a midfield group – also featuring Jack Macrae, Tom Liberatore and Mitch Wallis – that is thriving, despite being in a unique position.
Ranked dead last in the competition for hitout differential (-41.8 per game), the Dogs lead the League for clearance differential (+7.0 per game), which is a credit to its onball brigade.
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Young ruckman Tim English's aerial struggles have forced the Dogs' midfielders to become the biggest shark hunters in the competition, a prospect that fails to bother Bontempelli and co. as they push for a return to finals.
"It's just an appetite," Bontempelli said.
"No matter what, we're going to be up for the fight and really challenge teams to beat us inside. That's what we've always prided ourselves on, that no matter what happens from a hitout point of view – and Tim is obviously a developing ruckman – we'll provide a contest.
"If we win the hitout or we don't, we're going to be ready to fight and scrap and win our fair share of the ball. It's having an influence for us, that we're getting good clearance from stoppage.
"The next part of the game is to score from them and how we capitalise on that. We've got to do a bit better there, but it's nice to have the opportunity to work on that."