Luke Dunstan at times found himself on the outer.

Dips in form and subsequent spells for Sandringham had dotted the midfielder’s six-year career, preventing him from reaching his explosive best.

It was a frustrating tale, and one that looked like repeating itself in 2019.

After three games in the senior side to kickstart the year, the 24-year-old was sent back to the VFL as he fell lower down the pecking order.

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But the gritty South Australian flipped the script.

A career-best campaign from the No. 7 established him as an integral and influential member of St Kilda’s engine room.

The aggressive mid lined up for 18 games this season – the most since his 2016 campaign – and played every match following his three-week stint with the Zebras.

His bullish inside presence, hard-nosed attitude and unshakeable toughness at the coalface not only cemented his place in the midfield, but as a candidate for this season’s Trevor Barker Award.

Previously, Dunstan’s best finish on the club’s most celebrated night was in 12th position all the way back in his debut season.

The Woodville-West Torrens recruit led the Saints for total clearances (111) and stoppages (73), while also rounding out the top-three for contested possessions (207), tackles (87) and defensive-half pressure acts (190).

Dunstan bettered his standings in every statistic compared to last year, with his jump in clearance numbers indicative of his terrific season.

In 13 of his 18 games for 2019, ‘Spook’ notched up over 10 contested possessions and boasted one of the best contested rates for the red, white and black (52.5%).

Just like fellow powerhouse Jack Steele, Dunstan has stamped his mark through his physicality, commitment to the contest and insistent attack on the footy.

A 10-tackle display surged the Saints to victory over the Suns in Round 13, while two 30-disposal and nine-clearance masterclasses against Collingwood and Geelong were among his most admirable performances for the year.

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His workhorse-like ethic established the South Australian as one of his side’s most steady contributors, with his no-fuss demeanour earning the respect of teammates and supporters alike.

His previous inconsistency saw Dunstan linger on the periphery.

Now – just like the way he plays his footy – he’s planted firmly on the inside.