Caleb Daniel in action during the Western Bulldogs' win over Fremantle in round 16, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

CALEB Daniel may be in his ninth year of AFL, but he's thriving in his new midfield challenge.

Having made his name as a dead-eye rebounder coming out of defence, Daniel has been employed in a sweeping midfield role for much of the year, pushing out of the backline to hover in the back of packs, swooping on the loose footy.

Daniel, who turns 27 on Friday, did not attend a single centre bounce in 2020 and 2022, and played just a handful of midfield games in 2021.

While he returned to defence due to personnel issues in Saturday's 29-point win over Fremantle, Daniel has participated in centre bounces in 10 of his 15 games this year.

"I've been spending a little more time in the midfield, which is nice. It's my ninth year now, and I'm still able to evolve and play my role for the team and get a kick here and there. It's been nice, and I'm enjoying learning a few different things," Daniel said.

"We've got a really handy midfield, the guys are unbelievable in getting me out there and exposing me to different situations, so I've been stoked and loving my role.

"This game, it's always going to throw up different challenges. You've got a new opposition every week, it's a challenge in itself. You don't try and count your stats, all you care about is the win column. So if I'm [playing my role] as well as I can, that's a positive for us."


Coach Luke Beveridge brought up Daniel unprompted in his post-match press conference, praising the form of the leadership group member, whose changing role is demonstrated by a rise in his average inside 50s and a decrease in rebound 50s.

"There's a bidding war each week on where Caleb Daniel plays, because he's such a great leader and such a great team man," Beveridge said.

"We thought this week with the changes in our backline and losing some experience again, that we needed the stabilising figure, so we asked Caleb to play back again.

"He's like 'yep, whatever you need'. He's been playing really influential footy as a midfielder, so he's having an outstanding year, Caleb, and I thought he was very good again this afternoon."


The (long-overdue) hype and recognition around Tom Liberatore's output has been growing by the week, a fact noticed by Daniel.

"He's definitely now over-rated, if you want to publish that," he said with a grin.

"No, he's having a super season. You know what you're going to get from him every day at the football club, he gives his whole heart into it. He's from that sort of family as well.

"It's amazing to see him get a bit of recognition outside the four walls, but inside, he's one of our most valued teammates. We love him, and we love to see him keep on keeping on.

"He's getting pretty old now, so hopefully he keeps those knees all right and we can get him round for a few more years."

Tom Liberatore in action during the Western Bulldogs' clash with Port Adelaide in round 13, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

The Bulldogs now sit sixth, with percentage the only thing currently keeping them from fourth place.

The toughest challenge of all awaits this weekend in Collingwood.

"The sky's the limit. We're still growing, there are so many guys who are trying to strive and reach their full potential. It's been awesome to see them grow. We've got so much talent in the group, it's about putting it all together," Daniel said.

"Our ball use has been a bit astray this year, so tidying that up leads to less scores against and more scores for. If you're able to do that, you're probably able to win a few more games.

"So probably that little piece, and obviously you can always tidy defensive stuff up. We'll look at this trend and review, we bucked the trend of [losing off] the bye, so hopefully the momentum's going out way."