Brisbane-bound midfielder Josh Dunkley will walk out of the Western Bulldogs on a high after taking out his first club best and fairest award on Wednesday night.
Dunkley, 25, showed the depth of his talent throughout 2022 playing every game, but powered home late polling 52 votes in the final three rounds, which included a season-high 33 disposals against Fremantle in Round 21, to hold out teammate Tom Liberatore to win the Charles Sutton medal.
Power forward Aaron Naughton, who kicked a career-high 51 goals came third with captain Marcus Bontempelli in fourth.
Dunkley adds the best and fairest award to the premiership medallion he won with the Bulldogs in 2016, having played 116 games since his debut that AFL season, with his 584 disposals in 2022 second only to the 651 he racked up in 2019.
Despite Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge declaring the club was “desperate” for Dunkley to stay following the club’s elimination final loss to Fremantle, the midfielder officially nominated the Lions as his preferred 2023 destination two years after being denied a move to Essendon.
Port Adelaide also threw a monster offer at Dunkley and in choosing to leave for Brisbane, he said there was “no bad blood” with the club but he had made a lifestyle decision.
“This year has been the best year out of all of them. It was a good step in the right direction after the grand final, so there is no bad blood,” Dunkley said.
“Bevo was really good to speak to on the phone. We have had a great relationship from day one and before I was drafted he spoke to me about how much I can be a role model and leader, so Bevo has been great for me and he’s like a father figure.
“I said to Bevo it was more of a lifestyle choice. He backed it in and said he completely understands the long-term deal was appealing.”
Beveridge also conceded Dunkley’s reasons for leaving could come down to “opportunity and the short lifespan of an AFL footy”.
“You have to make hay financially as much as you can, and we understand that,” the coach said.
In other notable moments on the night, young forward Jamarra Ugle-Hagan was given the coaches award after playing 17 of 22 games, including every match after Round 12 as he began to assert himself at AFL level.
Rookie sensation Sam Darcy was named best first year player while livewire forward Cody Weightman, who played out the Round 14 games against GWS despite dislocating his elbow, was named the most courageous player.
Charles Sutton Medal – Top 10
1st place: Josh Dunkley – 231 votes
2nd:Tom Liberatore – 211 votes
3rd: Aaron Naughton – 180 votes
4th: Marcus Bontempelli – 174 votes
5th: Jackson Macrae – 170 votes
6th: Caleb Daniel – 158 votes
7th: Ryan Gardiner – 151 votes
8th: Adam Treloar – 150 votes
9th: Bailey Dale – 146 votes
10th: Ed Richards – 144 votes