What to do with Josh Dunkley?

It was on the cards the moment Josh Dunkley was subbed out last week against Richmond. But on Tuesday afternoon, the Lions confirmed that their star recruit would miss the battle against the Eagles due to a calf injury. The issue is the club haven’t ruled out him missing multiple weeks, which has left coaches in the fantasy community wondering what to do with Josh Dunkley.

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What’s your focus?

Whenever someone asks me about their AFLFantasy, SuperCoach or AFL DreamTeam side, I ask them, ‘What’s your focus?’ No point in me shelling out advice when I don’t understand the coach and their objective. So, before you decide on how you’re handling the absence of Josh, you need to clarify for yourself the focus of your fantasy side. Is it overall rankings, or is it league? The answer tells me everything I need to know.

If your focus is on the league finals, safely in finals contention, and have some relatively kind fixtures, then fielding the likes of Ryan Maric for 1-2 weeks will do little to dent your season. After all, you’ll want Dunkley on your side come finals. So in this scenario, holding Josh is favourable and likely the right play. Conversely, if you’re battling to scrape into finals and have to win over the next two weeks, trading out of Dunkley to maximise scoring on the field is more optimal and might get you back into your league finals.

Coaches playing for ultimately the highest ranking possible are much more inclined to prioritise trading out of Josh than those with a league focus. Within a rankings focus, are you in contention to win it all? Do you need to minimise the damage of a certain premium against you? Or are you needing to create squad separation? It doesn’t mean rankings focus = trade, but rather it helps provide the decision framework.

Nobody wants to see a player injured, but what it does do is create opportunity. Dunkley is among the highest-owned players in the formats, and we see similar teams amongst a big portion of the top 100-1000. As a result, the opportunity to create some differentiation through how people navigate the Dunkley dilemma can only be a good thing for the fantasy community. That differentiation can come through many pathways that we’ll unpack in this article.

So before you read further, what’s your focus? Leagues or Ranks? Where are you placed, and how can you maximise this opportunity for your benefit?

What’s your format?

 The focus isn’t the only variable. The format you play is another key component. The Coaches Panel gives insights for SuperCoach, AFLFantasy, DreamTeam & drafts, so giving universal ‘advice’ is dangerous and largely unhelpful. In AFLFantasy, where you have two trades a week, use or lose, it’s a higher percentage play to trade him than hold him. While in SuperCoach and DreamTeam, valuing the limited few trades you have remaining starts to add another layer of strategy to the game.

Choosing to hold Dunkley in these formats is much more warranted universally as a play, given that each trade has an increasingly higher value to your team the deeper the season goes. While a good play, some coaches have been burnt badly in 2023 with holding a premium. They are different players and different injuries, but those who have held Clayton Oliver will have an understandable scepticism that Dunkley will play next week. If you’ve held Oliver this long and rankings are your focus, it’s safe to assume your dream of winning it all has had its tires slashed.

You may own Dunkley in multiple formats. You’ll need to apply multiple different tactics and approaches. The beauty of these games is that they all require a different level of strategy.

Do you have cover?

It will be common for coaches to have little to no bench depth in the forward lines or the ability to utilise DPP and flip Dunkley into the midfield. Plenty of fantasy sides are running benches that feature a combination of these red dots in the midfield and forward lines. Kai Lohmann, Matt Roberts, Alwyn Davey Jnr, Sam Sturt, Harry Sharp, Charlie Constable, Jake Buller, Josh Fahey and Blake Drury. If you have squad depth, trading Dunkley becomes a forced move except for coaches playing for leagues who can afford to drop the results over the next 1-2 weeks. 

Can you loop Dunkley?

The Thursday evening clash this week is the Swans taking on the Tigers. For a high volume of coaches, they own Angus Sheldrick, with many having the luxury of having him as a bench option banking late-season coin. Over the last three weeks, he’s been averaging 95 in all formats. The matchup is a positive matchup for inside midfielders and general forwards, so it’s certainly within the realms of probability that Angus can get within that scoring range again.

The benefit of playing a loophole is it gives you a look at banking some scoring while being able to stash an asset that you’ll want to have in your team. Additionally, it enables you to move ahead with your preferred trading cadence and create the moves you want. So while Angus might not score comparable to Dunkley’s sideways trade option, playing the loop effectively means the trading moves in totality alongside looping him on the field does have you in an overall comparable if not stronger position.

Key in this strategy, whether it is Angus or another loop option, is to define the cut-off for scoring for your team. Additionally, when at the weekend, you need to make that trade. Take all emotion and pressure out of choice by making the marker decisions now. It’s amazing how you can see the game when you give yourself time and space.

Securing a topliner?

As the season has passed, there’s a high chance that at least one premium has given you a headache not owning them. The opportunity is now presented for you to be able to secure them. Whether that has been Tim English, Marcus Bontempelli, Jordan Dawson or any top-tier scorers, you can easily remove the headache and see Josh as the ticket to pain relief. Nobody likes injuries, but sometimes they create an opportunity for you to do something you’d previously been struggling to figure out how to do. 

Creating Separation

You will only win your league or the overall rankings with some form of separation from the pack. With Josh Dunkley, one of the most highly owned players, you could turn him into the unique player that separates your side from the pack.

In SuperCoach, Adam Cerra has averaged 122 over the past five weeks and is in just 3.1% of teams. My boy Josh Kelly also averaged north of 120 in the previous five weeks and at 121.6. Even more unique is Luke Parker at 1%. He’s going at 119 in the previous five games and 127 in the last three.

If it’s a forward replacement you need, Caleb Daniel is in 6.6% of sides and has scored five tons in his last six outings. In addition, less than one per cent own him in the top 1% of teams. Ben Keays is in 6.3% of teams overall but is in 16% of the top 1% despite him averaging more than Zak Butters over the past month.

For AFLFantasy, I know Brad Crouch looks appealing averaging 112 in the last five and is owned at 13%. But he’s owned by 71% of the top 100. That’s not going to create separation. So regardless of what he does, if separation is the focus, he won’t do it. Sam Walsh is in just 3% of teams in the top 100 and 8.2% overall. He’s far from his best at the moment, but from round 19 onwards, he has an amazing run with matches against West Coast, Collingwood, St Kilda and Melbourne—all favourable matchups. Tom Mitchell is also in just 4% of teams in the top 100, and one coach owns Josh Kelly.

Jack Macrae is a play if it’s a forward that you need. While owned by 13% overall, nobody in the top 100 YET has him. That’ll change this week. Likely too for Caleb Daniel; he also is lowly owned in the top 1,000.

Use the resources created by DFS Australia to help you find the right option for your side and price point.

Improving the squad overall

 Much has been made about the challenges of cash generation in 2023. As we’ve discussed on the podcast multiple times, the issue isn’t cash generation but rather that coaches must ‘pay up’ for better money-makers. The absence of Dunkley this week means coaches can look at creative ways of opening up their salary capacity to make a second trade alongside this and improve their teams’ performance.

For example, sake in AFLFantasy. Let’s assume you have 0 dollars in the bank. Let’s say Hayden Young is your worst on-field prospect. By moving Josh Dunkley down to Ben Keays or Harry Sheezel, you make $200,000+. That’s more than enough to get Hayden up to Sam Docherty. You could also through that $200k on top of Matt Johnson and turn him into Callum Mills.

It’s similar in SuperCoach; you make almost $200,000 dropping all the way down to Stephen Coniglio or Ben Keays, and over $300k if you need the cash by getting Liam Henry, who has a three-week average of 95. That extra $ can help you grab any of Harry Himmelberg, Callum Mills, Christian Salem, Patrick Dangerfield and Jacke Steele of any dead cow you have on a specific line.