EVEN Mitch Wallis admits he would have been long odds to be the Western Bulldogs' leading goalkicker this season.
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Aaron Naughton looked set to prosper as one of the competition's best young key forwards and Josh Bruce was brought into the club on a long-term deal. Plus, Wallis has been a midfielder for his whole life, not just at AFL level.
But with injury and form halting Naughton (13 goals) and Bruce's (12) respective charges, it has been Wallis who has stepped up around goal, booting 23 from 16 games in one of the biggest positional transformations across the competition.
"I didn't probably expect it to play out the way it did way back in February when the season started to kick off, but I'm really happy with some of the strides I've made as a forward. I consider myself as a forward now," Wallis told AFL.com.au.
"In years to come I'm probably going to stay there I think. Under (forwards coach) Ash Hansen's tutelage, and 'Bevo' (Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge), learning the different patterns and craft of a forward line player has been really exciting and enjoyable and a bit of a fresher look on footy."
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Wallis' consistency has been central to the Bulldogs' push towards the finals. He has kicked goals in all bar four games, and kicked three or more on four occasions. Playing as a small forward, he has kicked as many goals as West Coast's Liam Ryan, and one fewer than Sydney star Tom Papley.
The 27-year-old said getting his mind around not being a midfielder – and valuing his games and impact – was an adjustment that took some time.
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"If you're a midfielder you're a born and bred midfielder and any time you're not in there you're waiting to get back in there. You're resting forward or back or whatever it is," he said.
"When the switch flicked in my head to really dedicate my time as a forward and to change my thinking (from) 'No, it's not when you get back in the midfield', it's starting there and making the most of it and being really influential as a forward line player. When I made that shift in my head it made it a lot easier.
"I do miss the midfield days, but you do have to really analyse how you can impact a game if you're not touching the ball 20 times as a forward any more. You just have to make the most of it when you do.
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"As a forward line player you're sometimes reliant upon how your team's going to really have an impact. You kick the goals, which is put up in lights, but it's not as easy as people think or assume."
The Dogs will need Wallis to remain busy on Sunday night, with Beveridge's men able to sew up a finals spot with a win over Fremantle in Cairns.