WESTERN Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge has told Bailey Smith to let his football do the talking as the star midfielder seeks to repay his teammates in his return against St Kilda.

Smith has missed the Bulldogs' past four matches through suspension over separate headbutting and illicit drug use incidents.

The Dogs have fallen out of the top eight in that time, with losses in their last two outings against Brisbane and Sydney.

Friday night's clash with the Saints at Marvel Stadium is not far off being a virtual elimination final, with both sides desperate to keep their realistic top-eight hopes alive.

Western Bulldogs players look dejected after their loss to Sydney in round 17, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Smith's immediate return after serving successive two-match bans will add much-needed grunt to the Dogs' engine room.

"He's in a good head space, he's looking forward to getting back out and playing a game with his teammates," Beveridge said.

"I think he's managed it (the time out) extremely well and it will be great to have him back in the team."

LADDER PREDICTOR Where will your club finish?

Beveridge was among the first to offer his support to Smith after images and videos of the player with an illicit substance emerged in June.

Smith was serving a two-match headbutting suspension at the time and copped another two-match ban from the AFL for "conduct unbecoming".

Bailey Smith looks on after the loss to Geelong in round 12 on June 3, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

The images and videos were taken in late 2021, after the Grand Final loss to Melbourne, with Smith later admitting he "spiralled out of control" amid struggles with his mental health.

"I said to him I was probably more concerned about the headbutt than what happened at the end of last year," Beveridge said.

"He moved on from all that from last year. He was obviously frustrated with himself in regards to that.

MEDICAL ROOM Check out the full injury list

"But we all know that he's put all the right things in place and we manage and support him with his wellbeing as well as anyone can.

"Bailey's the type of competitor that turns up early to games and winds himself up and absolutely wants to be the best player out there for his club and his teammates.

Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge and Bailey Smith leave Marvel Stadium after defeating North Melbourne in R5, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

"It sort of almost flies in the face of trying to take the edge off and create some calmness in your life.

"He's just a fierce competitor, so my conversation with him was more around discipline and making sure that he plays his best footy within the rules and (making sure) that we don't lose him again."

Beveridge expects Smith will be driven by the pursuit of redemption in his comeback.

"I can't speak for him but the way he thinks, he really cares about his club and his teammates, and I think there will be an element of that as he goes into this game," Beveridge said.

"Maybe off the back of the last two weeks, which have been pretty lean for us, especially last week, he'll feel like he could've made a difference. That will be part of it."

As well as Smith, the Bulldogs could be boosted by the return of Josh Bruce for his first senior match of the season.

02:59 Mins
Published on

VFL Showreel, R16: Josh Bruce highlights

Enjoy Josh Bruce's standout VFL performance for the Bulldogs

Published on

The key forward took another step in his recovery from a long-term knee injury by kicking 4.5 in the VFL last week.

"It's not great timing – five-day break after a state league game – but he seems like he's come through that game," Beveridge said.

"He's healthy and he should be available for selection.

"There's every chance his name will be added to the teamsheet."

Beveridge expects fellow goalkicker Aaron Naughton to overcome a sore knee, while Anthony Scott (concussion) will miss at least one match.