Over the past few years, Joel Smith has grown into a reliable defender for Melbourne.

But upon returning from his latest injury, Smith soon found his role being changed for the Casey Demons.

It had been a while since Melbourne and Casey fans had last seen Joel Smith on the field, having his 2022 campaign interrupted by injury.

Yet his return to VFL action for the Casey Demons last Saturday was unusual.

Instead of returning to his position inside defensive 50 and locking down on forwards, Smith was sent up forward by Casey coach Mark Corrigan.

In Casey’s 91-point victory over the Northern Bullants, the newly minted forward grew into his first hit-out, finishing with four marks and 12 disposals.

But the stats don’t tell the tale of Smith’s second half, as the number 44 regained his confidence and began taking strong marks to set up his teammates in the runaway win.

“It was a bit of a different role,” Smith told Casey Media.

“The coaches wanted to trial me up forward for a bit.

“It took me a half to get going in terms of just reading the game, but I’m only going to get better as the weeks go on and it was good fun.”

By the end of the match, Smith looked to have slotted straight into the Demons’ impressive forward line.

He became a crucial link player across half-forward and offered a point of difference for Casey’s attacking group.

Smith said he was just happy to play again and take the field with other classy teammates.

“It’s a very talented forward line we’ve got with the likes of ‘Rooey’ (Jacob van Rooyen), ‘Duck’ (Mitch Brown) and ‘Chin’ (Kade Chandler),” Smith said.

“It was good fun just to be down there with them.

“It was very tough conditions as it was blowing a gale to one end, but I thought we as a team played it well.”

In a good sign for Smith and Melbourne fans, the defender-turned-forward got through his return unscathed.

Smith admits it has been a difficult season as he continues to try and get his body right ahead of a finals campaign for both Melbourne and Casey.

“I’ve had my fair share of injuries,” Smith said.

“Obviously, it feels good to just be out there playing footy again with your mates and it’s what I love doing.

“This game was a good hit-out, so I’m just trying to build some form before finals and hopefully I can just keep going now.”

It may have been a long road back for Smith, but the versatile option is now maintaining hope for the remainder of 2022.

Although he’d love to be back playing with Melbourne, he said he is also excited to see what he can do for Casey.

“AFL is the goal, but I love it here too,” Smith said.

“I’ll just keep playing my role and going from there to see where it takes me.”