A WINDY, mid-season practice game at Whitten Oval against Sydney was the scene for the Western Bulldogs' defensive experiment with key forward Josh Schache.  

Coach Luke Beveridge had mentioned the idea in passing and pulled the trigger for two quarters against the Swans to see how Schache coped against a trio of tall forwards.

It turned out to be the move that reinvigorated the 24-year-old, got him back in the senior team and ultimately led to him playing a key role as a forward in last week's elimination final win against Essendon.  

He enters this Saturday night's semi-final against his former club Brisbane as a key structural player at either end of the ground, and credits the defensive switch for breathing new life into his season.

MEGA-PREVIEW Lions v Bulldogs, stats that matter, who wins and why

"I was really excited by it and just felt like it was a really big freshener for me," Schache told AFL.com.au this week.  

"I almost got addicted to trying to learn something new and it was definitely something that gave me a bit of spark.

"Bevo floated the idea past me one day and it sounds cliched, but I said I'm happy to do whatever you guys want me to do.

"I had a few games back there before I played that game against Melbourne [in round 19], so it was a good challenge and I was excited about it."

Bulldog Josh Schache is tackled by Melbourne's Luke Jackson in round 19, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Schache played his only game for the first half of this season in round seven before dropping back to the VFL until his opportunity as a defender came. 

The irony of his move back, which resulted in three senior games between rounds 19 and 21, is that the Bulldogs then used him to good effect as a forward against the Bombers. 

The former Lion was a surprise late inclusion for that match and booted two goals from marks and set shots, grasping his opportunity when it came.  

"I've just had that mindset that you never know when you're going to get an opportunity," Schache said.

"Getting that opportunity on the weekend to come in and play a role for the team, I knew I was being put in for a reason, so I had the confidence to go out there and play my role."

Western Bulldog Josh Schache celebrates a goal against Essendon in the 2021 elimination final. Picture: AFL Photos

Defenders Alex Keath, Hayden Crozier and housemate Buku Khamis helped Schache learn his new craft, with defensive coach Rohan Smith an important teacher.

Smith said the 201cm big man now had the versatility and skills to move to either end whenever needed, but also the confidence, which had been the most important aspect of Schache's growth in the second half of the season.

"He's grasped his new role, he knows how important it is for the side and it's all come through confidence. You gain momentum out of that," Smith said.

"We know how important dual-position players are. If you can fill a role down back but also go forward and impact games or kick goals or provide a contest, those players are just so important."

Described as humble, softly spoken and incredibly respectful, there's also a supremely competitive streak to Schache that kicks up a gear on game day.

He couldn't break into the Bulldogs team for any meaningful period in 2020, playing only two games, and admits a long period out of the team might have rocked him.

Josh Schache and his Bulldog teammates leave the MCG after their round seven loss to Richmond. Picture: AFL Photos

But his three-month stretch out of the team this year made him more resilient and ready to play a key role against his former club, meeting them for only the second time in his four seasons with the Bulldogs.

"Along the way there's been periods where you do doubt yourself and it can be hard," the No.2 pick in the 2015 NAB AFL Draft said.

"Especially the last few years we've had with so much uncertainty.

"But I really think this year I've grown personally. Things didn't work for me earlier in the year, but I think that's made me a little bit stronger and more resilient in the way I go about it mentally and stick at it.

"I've stuck at it and knew an opportunity would come at some point, and when it did I would be ready."