Josh Dunkley handballs during Brisbane's round two match against Melbourne at The Gabba on March 24, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

YOU CAN already see a Josh Dunkley-shaped hole in the Western Bulldogs midfield.

As the 2016 premiership player prepares for his first game against his former employer on Thursday night, Dunkley's impact at Brisbane – and the void he has left at the Dogs – is already evident.

Dunkley has been deployed firmly in the heart of the Lions midfield through the first fortnight of the season. The impact he's had on his new team has been significant, but what he's left needing to be filled at the Dogs has been just as telling.

Champion Data notes that Dunkley's midfield splits have already risen from 58 per cent last year with the Bulldogs, to 91 per cent with the Lions this season. His centre bounce attendances have also grown, from 14.2 per game to 24.5 per game.


It's seen the inside grunt and the defensive aspect of Dunkley's midfield game improve drastically. This season, although the two-week sample size is small, he already rates 'elite' per Champion Data for ground ball gets (10 per game), clearances (eight per game) and contested possession rate (65.9 per cent).

At the opposite end of the scale, the Western Bulldogs have gone from being the No.1 side in the League for both centre bounce clearance differential and points from clearance last season, to dead last in both categories through this year's first two matches.

The Dogs have also dipped in clearance differential numbers (No.1 last season, to No.7 so far this season) and contested possession differential (No.3 last year, to No.8 so far this year).

Josh Dunkley
time in position
Mid % Fwd % CB attendances
 2022  58%  42%  14.2
 2023  91%  9%  24.5

The absence of Dunkley is highlighted by the fact the Western Bulldogs won centre bounce clearance 52.1 per cent of the time he was in attendance last year, the highest rate of any player within the top-100 for centre bounce attendances. This year, at Brisbane, that number is up further to 53.1 per cent for Dunkley. Conversely, none of Dogs' five most used centre bounce players are above 35 per cent in 2023.

Renowned as one of the best defensive runners among the Bulldogs' midfield group last season, the ground work that the 26-year-old used to cover has also been sorely lacking through the side's opening two defeats.

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Champion Data stats show that Dunkley rates 'elite' this season for pressure points (85.5 per game), while the Dogs rank second-last in the competition for pressure factor. Dunkley is also averaging seven tackles per game so far this year, No.1 at the Lions and No.8 in the League. The Dogs, meanwhile, rank third-last for tackle differential within the AFL.

Josh Dunkley 2023 average Midfielder rating
 Groundball gets  10.0  Elite
 Contested possession rate  65.9%  Elite
 Pressure points  85.5  Elite
 Clearances  8.0  Elite

It's impossible to say whether Dunkley's absence needs to be factored into the discussion when considering the Dogs' alarming running numbers this season, but that has undoubtedly been another factor hurting the side so far.

In round one, Telstra Tracker stats show that Melbourne covered 10km more than the Bulldogs. The Demons also completed 64 more sprints and 11 more repeat sprints. It was a similar issue in round two, where St Kilda covered 6km more than the Dogs and completed 59 more total sprints and 12 more repeat sprints.

Sam Powell-Pepper is tackled by Josh Dunkley during Port Adelaide's clash against Brisbane in round one, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

Speaking after the side's recent defeat to the Saints last Saturday night, coach Luke Beveridge conceded the Bulldogs had been "outworked" in the season's first fortnight but suggested there were more issues at play than just the group's work ethic.

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"I think you'd have to say in the first two rounds we've been outworked," Beveridge said.

"We had a really solid pre-season. We've had some surprises coming into the year with one or two boys … we've got 11 on the injury list at the moment, but that's not an excuse. It's just the way it is.

"You need a deep squad, but there's no doubt when we compare our output – as far as ground cover and the intensity of it and the speed of it – we haven't been up to the level that the first two teams we've played have.

"Now, that's a combination of things. It's definitely not because we haven't worked hard enough. It's a difficult one to analyse, but we've just got to face up to it."