Western Bulldogs midfielder Luke Dahlhaus can still remember the moment he feared he might not make it as an AFL footballer.
It was March 2011 and the Western Bulldogs had travelled to suburban Bunbury, about two hours south of Perth, for a pre-season game against Fremantle.
Then-coach Rodney Eade used the game as an opportunity to give the team’s rookies a chance – all except Dahlhaus and tall forward Tom Hill, who would eventually be delisted without playing a senior game.
“I was shattered because everyone had played a NAB Cup game except me,” Dahlhaus told AAP.
“I remember just going to Rocket and asking him what I didn’t do. We went through a few things and from there I was just really head down, bum up.
“I got a game finally, and tried to just work my arse off and haven’t looked back. I’ve been pretty lucky so far to be at this club and look where we are now.”
One of several inspired rookie picks on the Bulldogs list, Dahlhaus has since emerged as a key part of the side’s midfield heading into Saturday’s AFL grand final against Sydney.
Originally used as a forward, the 24-year-old has come into his own as a tenacious onballer alongside partner-in-crime Tom Liberatore.
Dahlhaus says he modelled his game as an inside-midfielder partly on Liberatore, and it shows in the remarkable synergy between the fast-handballing pair.
“I don’t know what it is. We seem to be in the right place at the right time with each other,” he said.
“We tend to start in there together and we tend to hear each other’s voices. I think that comes from working with each other pretty hard and when you’ve come in at the same time as someone.
“But I’d like to think the whole midfield are working pretty well together at the minute.”
Dahlhaus has averaged 26 disposals, five tackles and four inside-50s per game this season but missed six weeks with a strained medial ligament sustained in round 12.
The injuy looked potentially season-ending but Dahlhaus says he was always confident of returning and working back towards his best form.
“The physio gave it two little wiggles and he said ‘that’s a medial mate, you’ll be four-to-six (weeks)’ and he was exactly right from the scans and everything,” Dahlhaus said.
“I’ve come back and I sort of need to work on the tank a little bit but I feel like I’m getting back into the groove of things now.”