18/04/2024
Luke-Dunstan

Luke Dunstan. Photo: St Kilda FC

The addition of Luke Dunstan to the St Kilda midfield in recent weeks has coincided with the club's best performances of the season. Brett Ratten was quick to heap praise on the rejuvenated midfielder before their huge clash with Port Adelaide.

The addition of Luke Dunstan to the St Kilda midfield in recent weeks has coincided with the club’s best on-field performances of the season.

Since Dunstan has come back into the line-up in round 11, the Saints have clicked into gear with a record of 4-2. Their losses have come by a cumulative total of just 15 points.

He has exploded, taking home the Ian Stewart medal against Richmond and averaging 27.5 disposals per contest to go with 6.5 tackles in his six games.

His disposal has often been a point of conjecture, but he has managed to tidy it up and used the ball at 83 per cent from his 29 disposals (10 contested) in the Saints’ upset win over the Lions last weekend.

At his press conference on Friday, St Kilda coach Brett Ratten was asked if his form had come about purely through opportunity, or a change in aspects of his role from previous years.

“A bit of both I think. I think the opportunity, you know, [Jack] Bytel was in a position where they were both inside mids and we had to make a decision there,” he said.

“The pre-season form of Bytel was probably ahead of Dunstan – there wasn’t much in it – but that’s the way that went.

“Then Luke just knocked the door down with what he did at VFL level and just forced his way into the team. Maybe [we’ve also] tinkered with his role and what he’s doing.

“That’s helped him and we have some conversations around that – what he used to do and ‘this is really helping my game’.

“We’ve tried to make it fairly easy, you know, as easy as possible for Luke and let him play to his strengths as well, but his attitude has been first class.”

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Luke Dunstan has been a revelation, taking the majority of centre bounces with contested beasts Jack Steele and Brad Crouch. The former is in the 2021 Brownlow race after finishing third last year.

Steele’s numbers have been spectacular since the Saints’ bye three rounds ago. The contest specialist has averaged 30.5 disposals and 10 tackles a game.

He is expected to poll eight of a maximum nine Brownlow votes in this period.

Ratten took the opportunity to praise his co-captain – who has shouldered the load of leadership on-field without Jarryn Geary – but also gave credit to players who missed last year, and youngsters who are still developing in the side.

“I think his form has been very consistent throughout the season,” Ratten said of Steele.

“He’s a model of consistency. His worst and his best are pretty close together.

“He’s playing great football, and I suppose the added pressure of being captain – he’s really made some real inroads with his leadership [with] Geary not there.

“I think some of the other performances that we’ve had have been people that didn’t actually play last year. You think of Dunstan who didn’t really play last year, [Jimmy] Webster was out with hamstrings and other issues, [Daniel] Mackenzie didn’t play as well.

“For those boys to come in and play at a level that you just look at it and go, you know, take your hat off to them because they’re playing good footy.

“Then you just put the sprinkle of youth that we’ve got at the moment with [Leo] Connolly, [Ryan] Byrnes and [Tom] Highmore, I think it’s really healthy for the future with those quality young men, but [Max] King’s really developing as well.”

St Kilda currently sits in ninth place and just percentage out of a spot in the top eight.

With Fremantle going down to Geelong last night, the club has the opportunity to jump into a finals spot with a win over Port Adelaide, which seemed the most unlikely of scenarios when they came off the bye just three rounds prior at 5-8.

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