IT WAS meant to be an easy kill for one of the AFL's best and most brutal ruckmen, but the prey turned giant-killer at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night.

Brisbane Lions big man Stefan Martin was expected to be little more than a ruck bag in his duel with Western Bulldogs man-mountain and reigning All Australian Will Minson.

The odds of a Martin victory were so overwhelmingly stacked against him that many feared he wouldn't last the game, let alone actually provide sustained resistance to a primed Minson.

Since being traded by Melbourne to the Lions at the end of 2012, Martin had been plagued by an assortment of injuries that had restricted him to just five games last year, and none this year.

A pre-season back problem contributed to three more hamstring injuries.

After 62 games in six seasons, the 27-year-old wondered whether his AFL career was over.

But he pushed on with positive energy, experienced enough to know that an opportunity can arrive at a moment's notice, and that he needed to be ready.

Martin was third in line behind Matthew Leuenberger and Trent West, but long-term knee injuries to both suddenly thrust Martin into the No. 1 role.

His limited match conditioning amounted to just two NEAFL matches.

He told post-match that according to his rehabilitation plan he was playing at AFL level up to three weeks ahead of schedule.

And Martin hasn't always played in the ruck. After starting the sport relatively late, finding his best position has taken time.

Melbourne trialled him in virtually every other key position before throwing him into the ruck. He loves the ruck, and the vigorous man-on-man battle.

"I just have a crack, so it suits me," he said.

Following confirmation of West's ACL tear, there was much discussion about the sad state of the Lions' ruck stocks. Some, like St Kilda skipper Nick Riewoldt, even suggested there should be a mid-season draft for clubs such as the Lions to recruit a makeshift ruckman.

Martin knew he was "a fair chance" to be promoted, with the other options young rookie ruckmen Archie Smith and Sam Michael.

Martin appreciated Lions coach Justin Leppitsch telling him of his promotion early in the week because it gave him plenty of time to prepare.

"I wasn't actually too nervous; I was just excited to get the opportunity," he said.

"I tore three hamstrings since pre-season so I didn't know if I'd actually play (AFL) footy again.

"We've modified my weights program and, luckily, I think we're on top of that now."

Martin's pre-game plan was to simply "compete and give an honest contest in the ruck, and then play to my strengths and get [Minson] at ground level".

The duel started just as everyone expected, and just as Martin had feared. But gradually Martin nullified the contest and then began to create opportunities of his own.

Martin finished with 32 hit-outs to Minson's 34; 17 disposals to 14 (10 contested apiece); six clearances to five; two score assists to none.

When you compare pre-match expectation with outcome, Martin's performance was one of the most significant in a match the Lions won by just eight points.

"He was on top of me early, he got a lot of clearances and plucked it out of the ruck early and I had to adjust my game plan a bit. I was taking front spot a bit too early so I tried to hit him a bit later so he couldn't shift me off the ball," Martin said.

"I just didn't want to let anyone down and not let him dominate. I don't know who won the duel but I was just rapt to put in a decent effort and help the team win."

Fitness-wise, Martin said had no idea how he would fare and was happy to report that although he was "out of breath a few times", he held up better than expected.

He now hopes to hold up for an extended period and rejuvenate his career.

"It's unfortunate that the other guys got injured, but I've had a long time out of the game so I just want to make the most of it," he said.

Twitter: @AFL_BenCollins