LAST year didn't go as planned for Ed Richards.
In the Western Bulldogs' VFL practice match before the Dogs opened their AFL season against Collingwood, Richards broke his ankle and was ruled out for three months.
He returned to play five games in the back half of the season, but wasn't at his best and sat out the Dogs' finals series.
He had also spent time across recent seasons playing in different spots, including the wing and half-forward, but over summer settled back into his more customary role as a running defender. Talk emanating from the Dogs had Richards pegged as one of the club's leading performers over the pre-season.
"I just wanted to be solid defensively. I spoke to the coaches about it early in the year and they said they wanted me to be better in that aspect of my game and then everything will flow on from that," Richards told AFL.com.au.
It has flowed, with Richards among the Dogs' more consistent players in their up-and-down start to 2022. He has averaged 17 disposals and three rebound-50s in the opening nine rounds, and had an equal season-high 20 disposals in last Friday night's win over Collingwood.
The 22-year-old left-footer said he had enjoyed finding his place in the back half after last year's challenges.
"It's been good. I'm having a lot of fun so that's something I want to continue doing. I had a shocking run last year so have been able to get into the ones this year has been great. Just being able to complement all the boys who have been going through there has been something I've really taken pride in this year," he said.
"It was quite frustrating [last year]. They were winning a lot and it was great to see but I knew I was on the sidelines for a long stint with the long-term injury. It was great to see the boys get up an about and make a case in the finals, obviously it didn't come to fruition."
The Dogs have not won consecutive games since last year's finals series, but having clinched a strong victory over the Magpies last week face Gold Coast in Ballarat this week and then West Coast in round 11 in Perth.
The return of Marcus Bontempelli from injury was important against Collingwood, while ruckman Jordon Sweet stepped in to perform in the absence of Tim English through illness. Richards said the Dogs had prioritised a strong start and to chop off inside-50 marks for the Pies, with hopes the win can get them on a run.
"We've been pretty inconsistent which is something that's been pretty evident so I think we've just got to knuckle down and play like we did tonight. Be really connected with both phases – offence and defence – and you never know, we could string the next few together and really make a case for the eight later in the year," he said.