Mark Duffield: Black WA s best in past 25 years
Simon Black with the 2001 premeirship trophy. Pic: AFL Media

Not the quickest, not the flashest. But in the 25 years since Australian rules went national Simon Black has a firm claim on being the best player produced by the West Australian football system.

Black will become the first WA player to reach 300 games of VFL/AFL football when he takes the field for Brisbane against Geelong at the Gabba.

He is one of only five players to have won football's triple crown - a premiership, Brownlow Medal and Norm Smith Medal and the only West Australian to have done it. Greg Williams, James Hird, Jimmy Bartel and Chris Judd are the others. They are the game's money men, not because of what they earned but because they delivered when it mattered.

Black's record stacks up from all angles.

In big games there is his 39-possession Norm Smith Medal-winning effort in 2003 - the game his triple premiership coach Leigh Matthews remembers as his finest.

That year the Lions had to claw their way back from a qualifying final loss to Collingwood. Black amassed 116 touches from four finals. He has gathered 20 or more disposals 15 times in 20 finals.

There is his 2002 Brownlow, with runner-up finishes in 2007 and 2008. There was also a fourth in 2009 and a sixth in 2004. He is a three-times All-Australian - in 2001, 2002 and 2004.

But the greatest testament to his enduring quality is his record in his club's best and fairest. He has won it three times in 2001, 2002 and 2006 and finished second five times - in 2003, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. He was third in 2004.

Up until 2005 he was vying with the likes of Voss, Lappin, Akermanis, Lynch, Leppitsch and co. In the leaner years since there has been a bloke by the name of Jonathan Brown around to share the votes with.

Black was recognised as Brisbane's best up and comer at 20 in just his third final in 1999, when he was taken out crudely by North Melbourne defender Mick Martyn in the opening minutes and left with a fractured eye socket. He remains, with Brown, their best senior player 14 years later.

Others have had to change roles with age and shifts in the game. Black has made the journey playing the same role - as a brave inside midfielder with a keen eye, lightning quick hands and a cool head.

Ben Cousins is my No.2. A premiership hero, Brownlow winner, club champion four times and All-Australian six times.

He was a star from 1996 until off-field chaos overtook on-field deeds in 2007.

I agonised over No.3. Lance Franklin has the capacity to frustrate but in the end I came to this conclusion: His very best is the best of this entire group so he has to be near the top. We saw it in 2008 and at 25 he is already a premiership player and a three times All-Australian with three top-three finishes in his club's best and fairest. I suspect the absolute best is still ahead.

No.4 Glen Jakovich was the only Eagle other than Cousins to win four club best and fairests. He was the behemoth of a defence which was the cornerstone of two West Coast premierships. His duels with Wayne Carey, the greatest player of the 1990s, elevate him on this list.

No.5 Peter Matera was, with full-forward Peter Sumich, the main attacking weapon in an otherwise defence-based team.

People remember Matera's five goals in the historic 1992 grand final against Geelong but his other two games in that finals series (28 touches and three goals v Hawthorn in a Subiaco Oval elimination classic and 35 touches and two goals versus the Cats in a second semi) were as good if not better.

Dean Cox and Aaron Sandilands have dominated the AFL's ruck scene since 2005 and pick themselves on the list. Cox's skill and mobility reshaped the role. Sandilands at his best has been utterly dominant.

Guy McKenna changed the way half-back was played with his ability to find teammates and launch counterattacks. Peter Bell proved that heart was more important than size in a stellar career over 286 games at North Melbourne and Fremantle which included best and fairests and All-Australian jumpers at both clubs and two premierships at North.

Geelong's master of understatement Joel Corey rounds out the 10. He beat the likes of Ablett, Scarlett, Enright and Bartel to two club best and fairests and has set a mark for consistency over 238 games that few have matched.

Apologies to Eagles skipper Darren Glass, Dean Kemp and former St Kilda and Western Bulldogs star Nicky Winmar who narrowly missed.

The West Australian

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