Darling s star on the rise
Jack Darling. Pic: Lincoln Baker/WA News

Dual West Coast premiership forward Brett Heady says Jack Darling has the same big-game poise as Norm Smith medallist Jimmy Bartel and can become one of the competition's best 20 players within two years.

Darling, 20, will today enter his fourth western derby at Patersons Stadium coming off a career-best five goals against Brisbane.

The 191cm goal kicker has already held up remarkably well this season, booting a team-high 37 majors in the absence of injured trio Josh Kennedy, Mark Nicoski and Mark LeCras.

That burden could become significantly heavier against Fremantle, with tall target Dean Cox (ankle) under an injury cloud despite being named to play.

Heady, who booted five goals in each of the first two derbies in 1995, said he had not been surprised at the 2010 No.26 draft pick's capacity to stand tall in West Coast's hour of need this year.

"I reckon within a year or two, and it might be a ridiculous statement, but I think he's going to be in the top-20 footballers in the country," Heady said.

"I just reckon for a second-year player to be shouldering the load that he's doing at the moment and with some of the tricks that he's got, he's going to turn out to be an absolute steal for the Eagles.

"The point about him not being big enough to be a key-position forward is actually one of the reasons why he slipped down the draft so much.

"I reckon he's going to be an absolute star.

"He's got the right temperament. He's the sort of guy if you have a look already this year, when the game's up for grabs in the last quarter he's the guy that's really stepping up.

"You see that in guys like Bartel. They're the sort of guys that you want in your team."

Darling's three goals in last year's semifinal win over Carlton, including two in the final term, were crucial.

He repeated the dose in kicking two majors in the space of three minutes during the last quarter in round 12 this year to seal another narrow win in Perth over the Blues.

Heady comes from a strong position to make the call on the Eagles youngster.

Both went to Sacred Heart College in Sorrento - the same high school that produced Brisbane midfielder and 2008 No.7 draft pick Daniel Rich.

A 156-game West Coast life member, Heady also had a knack for kicking clutches of goals in crucial matches.

His haul of six goals in a 1994 preliminary final win over Melbourne lifted the Eagles into a grand final, and from there they won their second premiership.

Darling has established a commendable record in his three western derbies, averaging almost two goals and six marks in each game.

His influence will continue to be pivotal in the run home to finals, with doubts still surrounding the fitness of Kennedy.

Last year's club leading goal kicker was still noticeably limping when he walked from the field before last Sunday's 98-point demolition of Brisbane.

Kennedy last week said he was targeting a return in a month's time.

He has not played since requiring ankle surgery after round five.

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

Compare & Save

Follow Us

More from The West