Key forward Aaron Naughton admits it has been frustrating watching from the sidelines this year, as he looks to make up for lost time.
The 20-year-old made a promising return against the Brisbane Lions last week, having missed the previous six games with an ankle injury.
An interrupted pre-season, combined with the round four injury, have prevented Naughton from getting any continuity in his football in 2020.
But he’s hoping he can now get a clear run for the rest of the year.
“I actually pulled up pretty well, I was pretty happy with that,” Naughton told Channel 9 News at training this week.
“It was obviously a little bit of a disappointing result, but personally for myself to get back out there and play footy again was nice.
“The first final last year, doing my knee… and then the ankle after I’d just started playing some footy was a bit disappointing.
“But I’ve been really diligent with my rehab to now be out there playing footy again and hopefully I can get a clean run from now.”
The Bulldogs’ season sits in the balance with six games to go, with a 5-6 ledger leaving them in 11th spot on the ladder.
Games against Adelaide and Melbourne over the next fortnight will be important – and Naughton is hoping it won’t take too long to get back to his high-flying best.
“I’m hoping to get back to the footy I started to find before doing my ankle and hopefully that comes this week,” Naughton said.
“That’s what I build my game on. I love that side of the game and I definitely haven’t lost any of that.
“I’ll still be jumping in and crashing packs.”
In Naughton’s absence – and combined with injuries to Sam Lloyd and Josh Schache – the Bulldogs’ forward line has taken on a very different look in 2020.
Off-season recruit Josh Bruce has often being the only key target inside 50, with midfielder-turned-forward Mitch Wallis carrying extra responsibility.
Structurally, the return of Naughton last week made a difference in the front half – even if he was just finding his feet again.
“As a key forward, you sort of ride that title a little bit with the importance you have for the team,” Naughton said.
“It was difficult to sit on the sideline and watch.
It was a bit frustrating, I’m one of those players that doesn’t really like watching my team play without being out there myself.
“I’m just happy to be back and to play that role for the team.”