SLOWLY but surely, Zach Guthrie is establishing himself in Geelong's best 22.

The 23-year-old has put together 41 games since joining the Cats with pick No.33 in the 2017 AFL Rookie Draft.

But in the past five matches – Guthrie has never played six straight AFL games in the same year – the developing defender has taken his game to a new level.

He is averaging 18.2 disposals (up from a career average of 12.5), 5.4 intercepts (2.6), 8.0 marks (4.0) and 13.0 pressure acts (9.3).

Geelong's Zach Guthrie breaks away on his way to kicking a goal in round eight against Greater Western Sydney at Manuka Oval on May 7, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

"I started the season in the team, and then through form found myself out again. I've been in that situation before, so I've had some experience in dealing with it," Guthrie told

"A few injuries might have helped me get back in, but now I have the opportunity, I really want to take it. I don't want to find my way out of the team for the rest of the year. I know I have to perform well, but that's part of the challenge."

When Tom Stewart was concussed in the second quarter against the Western Bulldogs on Friday night – and given the absences of Jake Kolodjashnij (health and safety protocols) and Jack Henry (foot) – Guthrie became the second key defender behind Sam De Koning.

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"This season's been unbelievable from him. Obviously when you lose guys like that, it makes things a bit difficult. It's hard in the game, because things happen really quickly and you don't know all the ins and outs from the bench," Guthrie said.

"All of a sudden you see Quinton Narkle come on, and you don't know what's going on. We still have confidence our system stands up, even when guys like that go out.

"You can't fill the shoes of Tom Stewart, because he's a great player for us, but our system stood up well."

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Guthrie said the influence of new backline coach James Kelly has been one important factor behind his form of late, as well as feeling more at home at the top level.

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"Without that continuity, I haven't been able to get full confidence in my game, so it's been great to be able to put a few games together. My body's starting to develop a bit as well, so that's been great to get a crack at things," he said.

"Everyone in the backline and team is a great help for me, they back me in to play to my strengths. We've had a new coach come in for the defenders this year, James Kelly, and he's been great in instilling confidence in me. I'm just trying to play with confidence.

"I've always had great coaches in my corner, we had Matty Scarlett previously and I loved my time with him and learned a lot from him. But getting fresh voices in, we've had a whole lot of new coaches this year, and we've tinkered with a few things with our game plan."

Geelong coach Chris Scott and young defender Zach Guthrie celebrate victory during the round eight match against Greater Western Sydney at Manuka Oval on May 7, 2022. Picture: Getty Images