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Dunkley playing defining role

Post Match | Beveridge Press Conference (Rd8) Watch Senior Coach Luke Beveridge speak to the media at Mars Stadium, reviewing his side's 16-point win over the Brisbane Lions.

Josh Dunkley, the midfielder, returned with a vengeance in the past fortnight.

Video-game numbers of 35.5 disposals (18.5 contested), eight clearances, eight tackles, eight score involvements and five inside 50s make for a stunning return for the Western Bulldogs.

The 22-year-old was a distant sixth at the club for centre attendances this year in the first six rounds, but superstar Marcus Bontempelli is the sole Dog with more in the ensuing games (33-32).

Fifteen AFL Players' Association votes in the same span further highlights Dunkley's top-notch contribution.

The numbers are reminiscent of what he produced in the final nine rounds last season, when coach Luke Beveridge unleashed him as an onballer.

Dunkley spent a month out of the side after round nine, had a 15-possession 'sighter' in his senior return, then went on a rampage until the end of the season in averaging 28.8 disposals.

That withering finish seemed to have him primed for a monster 2019 campaign, but it's not that simple at the Kennel.

Beveridge boasts one of the AFL's deepest midfield units, including Bontempelli, Jack Macrae, Tom Liberatore, Lachie Hunter, Mitch Wallis, Toby McLean and, of course, Dunkley.

Top-10 draftee Bailey Smith has added to that rotation this season, too.

In particular, Liberatore's return from a knee reconstruction and strong early-season form complicated the situation for Dunkley, because there are only so many minutes to go around.

It meant Dunkley was shuffled back to mostly forward duties, where his knack for finding the Sherrin was still apparent – but his goalkicking inaccuracy feeds the Dogs' club-wide issue.

JOSH DUNKLEY'S PLAYING POSITIONS

YEAR

ROUNDS

MIDFIELD

FORWARD

 2018

 1-9

 25%

 72%

 2018

 14-23

 75%

 24%

 2019

 1-6

 40%

 60%

 2019

 7-8

 68.5%

 31.5%

McLean, Saint Blake Acres, Geelong's Gary Ablett and Giant Matt de Boer join Dunkley as the only footballers with close to a 50-50 split of forward and midfield time since the start of last year.

Dunkley ranks second League-wide for possessions and tackles per 100 minutes in attack this season, first for clearances and fourth for groundball-gets.

However, Dunkley's career shot-at-goal accuracy is just 34.5 per cent, which is only marginally better at 36.4 per cent in 2019.

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The Gippsland Power product's kicking in general was questioned ahead of the 2015 draft and was a black mark in his early seasons in the AFL, but this is another area he has dramatically improved.

Champion Data's kick rating, which factors in the difficulty of each attempt, sums up Dunkley's development.

A positive result means the player is successfully executing their kicks more often than an average footballer is expected to – and vice versa.

JOSH DUNKLEY'S KICK RATING

 YEAR

 ALL KICKS

 KICKS INSIDE 50

 2016

 -8.4%

 -6.1%

 2017

 -8.9%

 -13.4%

 2018

 -3.9%

 -4.5%

 2019

 +3.4% 

 +12.7%

Dunkley's per-100 minutes statistics as a midfielder are also eye-popping.

He is eighth in the competition for disposals, second for contested possessions, intercept possessions and intercept marks (behind Nat Fyfe) and fourth for groundball-gets.