The Western Bulldogs' intentions are firmly set on booking themselves a spot in the top eight for the fifth successive season, but one element of their front office will be looking at the ladder from a different angle as they look to answer a dilemma with their draft plans.
The Dogs will carry multiple first-round selections for this year's count into the off-season, holding their own selection (currently valued at Pick 13) as well as Brisbane's (currently valued at Pick 16) following a trade that saw Josh Dunkley head to Springfield last October.
Any side that has two spots in the queue among the top 18 selections will be looking forward to the opening night of the draft more than most, but for the Bulldogs, their plans may come with a conundrum.
While likely making the Dogs' draft intentions clearer, the rise of father-son prospect Jordan Croft - the son of former 186-game Bulldog Matthew - could also emerge as a double-edged sword for list boss Sam Power.
In the eyes of those that keep theirs close on the draft, Croft has bolted into contention as a likely first-round talent and is potentially on the fringes of the top 10 three months out from the draft.
The 200cm forward has kicked 17 goals in seven games in the Talent League this year to push his case as one of the leading key position players among the class of 2023, a year culminating with a five-goal haul against the Northern Territory in Round 4.
Croft showed further glimpses across a trio of appearances for Vic Metro, with his National Championships stint including a three-goal effort against South Australia to open his account.
While the dilemma around how Croft fits into Luke Beveridge's plans for the future, given the Bulldogs are already home to an attacking contingent of Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, Sam Darcy, Aaron Naughton and Rory Lobb - collectively averaging 199.75cm in height each - the issue for the Bulldogs lies elsewhere and more immediate.
Should the Dogs' current two opening selections remain where they stand, and a rival bid for Croft comes as early as 10th on the night, a balancing act could break out inside the Dogs' recruiting room.
A bid early enough, say Pick 10, would force the Dogs into handing over 1116 draft points (1395 points with a 20% discount on father-son bidding), which would swallow up the club's opening selection of Pick 13 - likely no major issue for the Dogs.
But if they manage to move up the ladder into fifth before the end of the season, or, more significantly, if a rival decides to place an earlier bid to force the Dogs' hand, plans could quickly spiral for the Dogs - who may need to get creative on draft night to avoid having both of their first-round selections tied into a matched bid for Croft.
So would the Dogs look to trade out their later selection, looking to recruit another top 15 talent and hoping a bid for Croft won't come before then? Or do they part with their earlier pick for later selections, again needing to shuffle their hand on draft night in the hope of moving back into the first round?
A best-case scenario, albeit unlikely, would see Croft slide past the Dogs' two opening selections, with the Footscray-based club able to swoop on the key forward with a handful of later draft selections.
With the potential to come away with three top draft prospects, or contrastingly just one and change, the Dogs will be weighing up whether they get busy in pick swapping prior to the draft.
But Croft's rising stocks might not be the only issue the Dogs face when it comes to one of their priority prospects at the draft.
After snatching Ugle-Hagan atop the draft board in 2020, thanks to the loose restrictions around Next Generation Academy players, the Dogs' luck with NGA prospects might not be so fortunate this year.
With the AFL moving the barrier for matched NGA bids back to Pick 40 following Ugle-Hagan's move to the Dogs - an outcome that saw the draft's top talent land with a finals-contending club - any NGA talent will now be up for grabs for approximately the entire first two rounds of the draft.
This year's crop is seen to have quite a level playing field once you conclude the top 20 or so selections, but one name seen as a late second-round or early third-round pick is Western Bulldogs NGA prospect Luamon Lual - a line-breaking defender that relies on run and pace from half-back.
Lual will be an intriguing watch for the Bulldogs come the draft, with the GWV Rebels talent potentially drifting into top 40 calculations and, therefore in a group that could be out-of-reach for Power and his recruiting team.
With the NGA cut-off falling within Lual's potential window in the draft order, the Dogs' plans could be put into a spin for the second time come November, depending on what side of Pick 40 the South Warrnambool junior falls.
The moved NGA bid line has seen clubs miss out on top academy talent in recent drafts, with St Kilda unable to secure top 10 pick Cameron Mackenzie last year as he made his way to the Hawks with their opening selection, while Melbourne couldn't retain Mac Andrew in 2021, with the Suns using Pick 5 on the key-position talent.
The same year Andrew made his way to Gold Coast, St Kilda were more fortunate thanks to the NGA cut-off being set at Pick 20, with Sydney's bid for 2023 Rising Star contender Mitch Owens at Pick 33 matched by the Saints. Fourteen picks later, the Saints would also secure Marcus Windhager following Geelong's bid for the Beaumaris junior.
Much like Croft, Lual was able to glimpses of what he could offer to AFL recruiters during the National Carnival and would see his champs campaign peak in his final hitout for Vic Country in their 31-point win over Vic Metro.
Lual would collect 12 disposals and slot home a long-range goal to catch the eye of scouts before making his return to the Talent League with the Rebels. The flashy flanker has averaged 24 touches over his two appearances with GWV since, ranking among his side's best performers to improve his standing late into the season.
Before turning to the Draft Combine in October, Lual will have two more appearances at the Talent League level against Bendigo and the Western Jets, where the Bulldogs will be keeping a close eye on their NGA prospect.
As for Croft, the Calder Cannons forward will have a pair of performances before he too is put through his paces at the combine.