AFL Trade Period: Is Luke Dunstan the perfect depth midfielder for the Dees?

Luke Dunstan AFL Melbourne Demons
Luke Dunstan is officially a Melbourne Demon. Photo: St Kilda FC

The reigning premiers Melbourne have made their first move of the off-season, acquiring former Saints midfielder Luke Dunstan as an unrestricted free agent.

The Saint adds more depth to the blockbuster Melbourne on-ball brigade, which includes recent Norm Smith Medallist Christian Petracca alongside Clayton Oliver, Jack Viney, Angus Brayshaw, Max Gawn and James Harmes.

But where will Dunstan fit in, and why have the Dees grabbed him when they already boast an abundance of midfield talent already?

If there was one side who didn’t need more on-ballers, it’s Melbourne. But with contested ball-winner Nathan Jones finally hanging up the boots after a wonderful career for the Dees, his departure leaves another slot for a hard-running midfielder to fill. Dunstan, with no additional cost to Melbourne considering he was released by St Kilda at season’s end, is the perfect solution.

His dismissal by St Kilda came as a big shock, considering he was one of the team’s best players in the back half of the season when they made an unlikely charge towards a finals berth. Slotting into the midfield alongside club captain Jack Steele, Dunstan was instrumental in patches, averaging 25 disposals and six clearances across his 12 games for the season. Remarkably, he also polled 11 Brownlow votes to finish second for the Saints on the night, meaning Melbourne has secured a midfielder who can clearly find the football and string together consistently good games at AFL level.

At only 26, he also has at least five years left to run in his career, meaning he has time to gift Melbourne depth down the track.

Does Luke Dunstan get an immediate AFL gig with Melbourne?

There’s no doubt that Dunstan will add plenty to the Dees in terms of depth. But it’s hard to see him slotting into the AFL on-field brigade considering the premiership star-power Simon Goodwin already possesses.

Instead, Dunstan looks to be a very handy depth option, alongside the likes of Jayden Hunt and Jake Melksham, who both missed out on Melbourne’s 2021 premiership side. If injury or poor form befalls any midfielders, Goodwin would be rapt to have the class and ability of Dunstan sitting there ready to take their place.

From an initial perspective, Dunstan will head to Melbourne’s VFL affiliate in Casey, where he can immediately show he is too good for the level if he displays the form he finished off 2021 with. If he can do this, then he should be every chance of forcing his way into Melbourne’s stacked side and challenging some premiership stars for their positions.

It’s the perfect scenario for Goodwin and the Dees, who now have another piece of the puzzle to creating a competitive list full of depth. In what is already a strong group, the addition of Dunstan’s capable left foot just adds more pressure for spots going forward.

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Could he be played elsewhere?

The only other option for Dunstan is changing positions to force his way into Melbourne’s AFL side. With so many strong midfielders already taking spots in the centre bounce, Dunstan may be forced to evolve his game. If he can become a handy winger, he may partner Angus Brayshaw and Ed Langdon well as a backup.

If he can become defensively minded and use his measured kicking skills to rebound effectively off half-back, he could also be a valuable flanker to add even more class and precision to the likes of Christian Salem.

But his best work appears to be done in contested situations, meaning he is likely to be kept as a depth midfielder who can provide a different option if Melbourne’s premiership defence gets off to a shaky start.

Either way, the lack of cost attached to such a capable player means the Dees can’t lose with grabbing Dunstan from the Saints.

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