MITCH Lewis initially thought he'd played OK in Hawthorn's 19-point loss to Brisbane at the Gabba in round 11.
The young key forward's opponent, Lions star defender Harris Andrews, had been influential, but Lewis certainly hadn't been the team's worst performer.
Returning after being sidelined for a week with concussion, the 20-year-old had hauled in an equal game-high three contested marks and contributed a team-high two goals in a team total of just 10.
However, it wasn't enough to save the eight-gamer from the axe.
Hawks coaches wanted the third-year prospect to compete more consistently and improve his running patterns, among other things.
"It was a tough one," Lewis told AFL.com.au on Monday after receiving the NAB AFL Rising Star nomination for round 18.
"But you've got to trust the coaches, and they thought that was the best thing to do at the time.
"All I could do was go back to VFL level and show them that I should be back in the side and that I belong there.
"They wanted to see that real competitive aspect of my game. I'm a very competitive person with everything I do, but it was more around the consistency that I was doing it. Against Brisbane I didn't do it consistently for the whole game.
"That was at the forefront of my mind when I went back to the VFL."
Lewis spent the next three weeks with the Box Hill Hawks and showed he was ready for a recall in a clash with the Casey Demons, during which he held his own in man-on-man duels in the ruck against Melbourne-listed players in ruckman Braydon Preuss and defender Oscar McDonald in atrocious conditions.
Since his return to the Hawthorn forward line, Lewis' impact has been that of a more assured player keen to impose his presence on the contest.
In his subsequent three AFL games, he has played a key role in victories over last year's runner-up Collingwood, Fremantle and top team Geelong, averaging 16 possessions (seven contested), six marks (two contested) and tallied 8.4 and three goal assists.
In this period Lewis has kicked three more goals than his nearest teammates, Luke Breust and Oliver Hanrahan.
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His first game back against the second-placed Pies at the MCG on a Friday night in round 16 proved something of a turning point, with Lewis soaring to take pack marks and kicking two goals, including a go-ahead major midway through the final term.
"The fact I had a couple of moments, especially in the last quarter where I kicked a goal and put us in front at a pivotal stage in the game, it gave me a bit of confidence and belief that, 'Maybe I do belong at AFL level'," he said.
"The last two weeks there's been more confidence building and I feel like I'm in a pretty good space at the moment."
In his past two outings Lewis has kicked a quarter of Hawthorn's goals, booting an equal game-high three of his team's 12 goals against both Fremantle in Launceston and Geelong at the MCG on Sunday, before receiving the Rising Star nod.
A handy back-up ruckman at 198cms, he says his running patterns have also improved simply by playing more AFL footy, and it has also helped that the Hawks have been moving the ball well.
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"It's obviously every player's aspiration to perform every week at the highest level, and hopefully that will come with time. It's not going to happen overnight. I've been playing some pretty decent footy the last three weeks and I've just got to stick at it," he said.
Lewis could easily have kicked four against the Cats but just before half-time he unselfishly passed one off to teammate James Worpel when he could have taken an elementary set shot himself from close range.
"You always try to give it to someone who's in a better position, but I thought I was on more of an angle than I actually was. Maybe in hindsight I wouldn't have passed it off, but looking after 'Worps' is always a good thing – he's a good mate of mine, so he can owe me a coffee," he said.
Originally from Wallan, 45kms north of Melbourne, Lewis attended Assumption College and was "a late bloomer" with football because he'd focused largely on cricket and golf.
The No.76 pick in the 2016 NAB AFL Draft, the former Calder Cannon played two AFL games last year, when he also finished equal-second in the VFL goalkicking with 38 goals in 19 games and won a premiership with Box Hill.
He added "five or six kilos" in the pre-season to lift himself into the 98-100kg range and now feels "a bit more comfortable" matching it physically with his opponents.
"I don't want to get any heavier than that. It's just about getting a bit of the fat off me and replacing it with muscle," he said.
Regarded as the successor of former skipper Jarryd Roughead, who has spent the bulk of the season in the VFL, Lewis said the veteran had been a "super" influence on his development, particularly over the past 12 to 18 months.
"In pre-season 'Roughy' really took me under his wing. Everything around training, weights and anything else at the club, I was doing it side by side with him," he said.
"It just shows what a selfless guy he is, even as he's approaching the end of his career. He's such a great guy who shares his experience and I can't thank him enough."
Lewis and the Hawks face Brisbane again on Saturday, this time in Launceston. He's unlikely to be marked by Andrews, who has been offered a one-week suspension, but Lewis feels he has learned a great deal since their round 11 clash.
"I feel a lot better prepared. I've acquired skills in my game that will hopefully make me better equipped this time," he said.