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Top 50 players in VFL since 2000

Leading Leader journallist Paul Amy has listed his top 50 players for last 20 years in VFL (Since 2000)


50 - Daniel Clarke (Frankston)

49 - Nick Carnell (Coburg)

48 - Marcus Marigliani (Frankston/Sandringham/Port Melbourne/Essendon)

47 - Troy West (Williamstown)

46 - Dean Galea (Williamstown/Port Melbourne)

45 - Willie Wheller (Coburg/Williamstown)

44 - Dom Gleeson (Werribee/Geelong)

43 - Brad Lloyd (Williamstown)

42 - Shaune Moioney (North Ballarat)

41 - Roderick Crowe (Sandringham)




40 - Ezra Poyas (Sandringham)

39 - Justin Berry (Frankston)

38 - Kane Lambert (Northern Blues/Williamstown)

37 - Steve Harrison (Springvale-Casey Scorpions)

36 - Adam Marcon (Northern Blues/Williamstown)

35 - Ben Atkin (Tasmania)

34 - Michael Ablett (Frankston)

33 - Ben Beams (Tasmania)

32 - Ryan McMahon (Port Melbourne)

31 - Brett Goodes (North Ballarat/Footscray)




30 - Sam Iles (Tasmania/Collingwood/Gold Coast/Box Hill Hawks)

29 - Peter Summers (Sandringham)

28 - Brett Johnson (Williamstown)

27 - Michael Frost (Werribee)

26 - David Gallagher (Sandringham/Frankston)

25 - Adrian Fletcher (Williamstown)

24 - Marc Greig (North Ballarat)

23 - Sam Gibson (Box Hill Hawks)

22 - Chris Cain (Port Melbourne)

21 - Myles Sewell (Coburg/North Ballarat)




20 - David Robbins (Springvale/Sandringham/Port Melbourne)

19 - Sam Dwyer (Port Melbourne)

18 - Jeremy Clayton (North Ballarat)

17 - Stevie Clifton (North Ballarat)

16 - David Mirra (Box Hill Hawks)

15 - Travis Robertson (Werribee)

14 - Michael Barlow (Werribee)

13 - Nick Meese (Northern Blues/Williamstown)

12 - Michael Gibbons (Williamstown)

11 - Ian Callinan (Tasmania)




10 - Shane Valenti (Sandringham/Port Melbourne)

9 - James Bryne (Geelong)

8 - Orren Stephenson (North Ballarat)

7 - Sam Pleming (Port Melbourne)

6 - Chad Liddell (Sandingham)

5 - Toby Pinwill (Port Melbourne)

4 - John Baird (Box Hill Hawks/Port Melbourne)

3 - James Podsiadly (Werribee/Geelong)

2 - Nick Sautner (Sandringham/Frankston/Northern Blues)

1 - Ben Jolley (Bendigo Bombers/Williamstown/Port Melbourne)

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Fabulous 50: Best 50 players in the VFL since 2000

They may not be household names like AFL stars, but these champions of the VFL lit up the footy field. We name the best 50 stars of the past two decades.

Paul Amy, Leader

Subscriber only


May 18, 2020 6:00am

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Narrowing down a VFL top 50 was a hard task.


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It started out as a top 20, as the editor-in-chief had requested.

Name the best 20 VFL players of the past 20 years, he said.

Well, 20 became 40, which became 50.

And still so many fine players were left out: JJ Liston Trophy winners, club best and fairests, team-of-the-year regulars, leading goalkickers, AFL graduates.


Best EFL players of past 20 years | WRFL’s best 20 players since 2010 | The best 20 MPNFL players since 2000

To be considered, players had to have played a minimum of two seasons as VFL-listed players (which knocked out runaway JJ Liston Trophy winner Sam Mitchell, brilliant Northern Bullant Daniel Harford and three-time best and fairest Kyle Martin).

The only certainty? The selections will more start than settle arguments.


Daniel Clarke, Frankston: the 205cm, all-endeavour ruckman was a warm favourite of the Frankston crowd, invariably setting off chants “of Normie, Normie, Normie…’’ on the hill. Joined the Dolphins from Melbourne and went on to play a club-record 203 games and be a model leader, if not by title then certainly by deed (it remains a mystery how he never captained Frankston). A season never passed without coach Brett Lovett noting “Big Normie’’ had a “massive heart’’.




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 Frankston’s Daniel Clarke.

“Big Normie’’: Frankston’s Daniel Clarke.


Nick Carnell, Coburg: exemplary clubman and tenacious left-footer who by the end of his career was being called “The Lion King’’. Was captain from 2009-2015, topped the goalkicking four times and was judged most courageous on five occasions. Had the longevity — he got up to 168 senior games — to go with his ability.

 Coburg’s Nick Carnell.

Lion King: Coburg’s Nick Carnell.


Marcus Marigliani, Frankston/Sandringham/Port Melbourne/Essendon: “Rigger’’ knew a lot of highs during a VFL career that went past 150 games. He played the bulk of them at Frankston, winning the 2008 best and fairest. Drafted to Essendon, he broke in for two AFL games. And he finished up at the Bombers in 2015, as VFL captain, after stints at Sandringham (where he was also skipper) and Port Melbourne. He was at his best at Frankston as a dynamic and determined onballer; injuries and the disappointment of his dealings with AFL clubs dulled him of some of his brilliance in his later years.

 Marcus Marigliani at Frankston.

“Rigger”: Marcus Marigliani at Frankston.


Troy West, Williamstown: old-fashioned full-back who stood a lot of good opponents — and the test of time. Played 208 games for Willy (and for a few years held the club record until Ben Jolley went past him), featured in the 2003 premiership, was captain from 2000-2004 and twice represented Victoria. A proud and dedicated player.

 Troy West.

Determined defender: Troy West.


Dean Galea, Williamstown/Port Melbourne: once the ball hit Galea’s hands it stayed there: marking was his strength, as many backmen came to find. He made the move from Willy to Port in 2010, had hauls of 48 goals, 71, 76 and 58, twice won the Frosty Miller Medal as the league’s leading goalkicker, and slotted six goals in the 2011 grand final.

 Dean Galea at Port Melbourne.

Hot hands: Dean Galea at Port Melbourne.


Willie Wheeler, Coburg/Williamstown: “Willie Wheeler from Willy’’ had a nice ring to it. And he was a nice player. No, he was a fine player across 162 games, first at Coburg, where he won a best and fairest, and then at the Towners, where he landed another best and fairest (2016), and was a key member of the 2015 premiership, strong around the ball and a canny user of it.


 Willie Wheeler marks for Williamstown.

Willie from Willy: Willie Wheeler marks for Williamstown.


Dom Gleeson, Werribee/Geelong: loved by teammates and respected by opponents, Gleeson was a stout-hearted onballer who was fractionally short of 200 games when he retired from the VFL at the end of 2014. His eight years at Werribee took in a three-year run as skipper and included two best and fairests. He crossed to Geelong in 2011 and was part of its premiership success in 2012. A fine servant of his clubs and the wider competition.

 Dom Gleeson leading the Bees.

Respect: Dom Gleeson leading the Bees.


Brad Lloyd, Williamstown: midfielder who gave the Towners long and dedicated service (167 games) after debuting in 1994. Had a stint at Hawthorn, where he played 11 AFL matches and won a Gardiner Medal, and returned to the Seagulls to take best and fairests in 2000, ’01 and ’04 and co-captain the 2003 premiership side. He also captained the Victorian team against WA. More recently, in his capacity as an AFL football manager, he’s cocked an eye for VFL players. A class act on and off the field.

 Brad Lloyd.

Top Towner: Brad Lloyd.


Shaune “Spider’’ Moloney, North Ballarat: heart-and-soul clubman, inspiring captain and determined defender who gave no key forward peace during his long career. He particularly relished his match-ups with Nick Sautner, before which teammates would wind him up like a plastic watch. Led the Roosters to the 2008-09-10 premierships, topped the best and fairest count in 2004 and was a VFL representative.

 Rooster Shaune “Spider’’ Moloney.

Flag man: Rooster Shaune “Spider’’ Moloney.


Roderick Crowe, Sandringham: key forward who played in the Zebras’ 2004-05-06 premierships, always a trusty target his strong marking and sure kicking. Recruited from North Melbourne, he twice represented the VFL and was centre half forward in the 2005 VFL team of the year. Later had much success playing for Balwyn.


 Zebra Roderick Crowe (right).

Three flags: Zebra Roderick Crowe (right).


Ezra Poyas, Sandringham: little wonder the Zebras peeled off three consecutive premierships from 2004. Aside from a strong Melbourne contingent, they had a top-drawer VFL list capped when Poyas joined them after the first flag. He’d won the 2001 JJ Liston Trophy as a Richmond player and linked with Sandy after spending 2003 as a Melbourne rookie. Poyas could turn matches with important goals, and his skill level was at AFL standard. He revelled in the high stakes too: give him a final and watch him go. Finished with 130 VFL games and was a state representative in 2007, when he was also in the VFL team of the year.


 Ezra Poyas.

Matchwinner: Ezra Poyas.


Justin Berry, Frankston: flashy small forward with blistering pace and innate goals sense, and his spectacular play regularly got the drums beating on the hill at Frankston. Berry bounced around after being chopped as a St Kilda rookie over discipline issues. But he put his wandering and wild days behind him to play 128 senior games for the Dolphins, twice represent Victoria and gain two team-of-the-year gongs. Finished with 233 goals for Frankston.

 Frankston's Justin Berry.

Berry good: Frankston's Justin Berry.


Kane Lambert, Northern Blues/Williamstown: top-liner Lambert is enjoying a fine career at Richmond, which moved on him after a dynamic finals performance for Williamstown against Werribee at Port Melbourne in 2014: 32 touches, 17 clearances, 15 inside-50s and four goals. Lambert took his biggest strides at the Northern Blues, coming in a vote behind winner Mitch Hallahan in the 2013 JJ Liston Trophy and taking the best and fairest and the Fothergill-Round Medal.

 Kane Lambert takes a kick for the Northern Blues.

Going places: Kane Lambert takes a kick for the Northern Blues.


Steve Harrison, Springvale-Casey Scorpions: the midfielder counts as one of his club’s most decorated players after winning five best and fairests, the first in 2001, the last in 2007. Supreme in the air and fearless on the ground, he was captain from 2003-2006, played for Victoria and earned three VFL team-of-the-year gongs.

 Casey’s Steve Harrison.

Decorated: Casey’s Steve Harrison.


Adam Marcon, Northern Blues/Williamstown: much-admired onballer who was good enough to slip in two AFL games with Richmond in 2016. He won best and fairests at the Northern Blues (2012) and Richmond VFL (2016), was the Fothergill-Round Medallist in 2015 (the same year he played in Willy’s premiership), collected the Frank Johnson Medal in 2014 and has been a regular selection in the VFL team of the year. Ought to go on to play 175 games and become a VFL life member.

 Adam Marcon.

Willy wonder: Adam Marcon.


Ben Atkin, Tasmania: gun running player who was part of the Devils team that competed in the VFL from 2001-08. The image endures of Atkin flying along a wing, not a hair on his head, not an opponent capable of keeping up with him. Played until the end of 2006, departing with honours including the 2003 best and fairest, and state selection in 2003, ’04 and ’05 (when he also snared the Frank Johnson Medal against the SANFL).


 Ben Atkin.

Devils dasher: Ben Atkin.


 Michael Ablett.

Frankston’s standard: Michael Ablett.

Michael Ablett, Frankston: brilliant and brave right-footer who liked to dash out of defence and instigate attacks.

Invariably struck the right balance between man-minding and ball-finding, and won Frankston’s best and fairest four times on the hop from 2002.

Was a North Melbourne rookie before joining the Dolphins, and now works in the football industry as a talent manager.

He had a fair bit of talent himself.


Ben Beams, Tasmania: after 21 games with Melbourne the skilful left-footer returned to Tassia to play with the Devils.

He did so for five seasons, serving as captain in four of them, and he often lifted the team with spearing kicks out of the middle and classy goals.

Represented the VFL in 2002, 2005 and 2005.


 Tassie’s Ben Beams.

Leader: Tassie’s Ben Beams.


Ryan McMahon, Port Melbourne: They called him “Shooter’’ and he was a tough son of a gun, eyes glued only for the ball. “He plays for keeps,’’ Port coach Gary Ayres once said of McMahon, who started in 2000 as a high-number hopeful and more than a decade later became only the seventh player to reach the 200-game mark for the Borough. He was glad he pushed on into the 2011 season: Port went through undefeated, giving him a premiership medal to go with his 2006 best and fairest.

 Port’s Ryan McMahon.

“Shooter’’: Port’s Ryan McMahon.


Brett Goodes, North Ballarat/Footscray: left-footer who mixed grace with grunt and seemed to reserve his best for the biggest occasions, as when he won the Norm Goss Medal as best-on-ground for Footscray Bulldogs in the 2014 grand final. It was his third VFL premiership: he also played in North Ballarat’s 2008-09 successes. There was a flourish to his career when he had 22 AFL games for the Doggies.

 Brett Goodes kicks North Ballarat into attack.

Got the Goodes: Brett Goodes kicks North Ballarat into attack.


Sam Iles, Tasmania/Collingwood/Gold Coast/Box Hill Hawks: the Tasmanian had a bouncy football career, playing for Collingwood and Gold Coast in the AFL and for four clubs in the VFL. Running and linking and forever creating, he was a star of the state league, winning the Suns’ VFL best and fairest and twice topping the count at Box Hill. He also played in the Hawks’ 2013 premiership.

 Sam Iles over the ball for Box Hill Hawks.

Tassie talent: Sam Iles over the ball for Box Hill Hawks.


Peter Summers, Sandringham: talking to former players about potential picks for this list, it was surprising how many mentioned Summers; they regarded him as one of the best midfielders during his time in the VFL, which amounted to 121 games. Stints at the Northern Bullants and Bendigo Bombers (as an Essendon rookie) were followed by five fabulous years at Sandy. He won a best and fairest (2008), played in the 2005-06 premierships, was a VFL representative and assumed the captaincy from the great Chad Liddell in 2008.

 Peter Summers.

Zippy Zebras: Peter Summers.


Brett Johnson, Williamstown: the former Hawthorn and Carlton left-footer was captain of Willy in five of his six seasons at Point Gellibrand. And with his pickpocket’s hands, neat left-foot and head-over-the-ball bravery he built a formidable record: three top-three finishes in the JJ Liston Trophy, the 2008 and ’10 best and fairests, and the state captaincy.

 Brett Johnson.

Seagulls skipper: Brett Johnson.


Michael Frost, Werribee: the powerhouse left-footer played only two seasons in the period under consideration, but they were two distinguished seasons: the Tigers’ best and fairest in 2000, team-of-the-year honours in both and state selection in 2001. Of course, he’d won the JJ Liston Trophy and led the Bees into the grand final in 1998. He could play anywhere on the ground, and it almost took a bazooka to stop him when he went on a barrelling run with the ball tucked under his wing.

 Michael Frost on the burst for Werribee.

Power: Michael Frost on the burst for Werribee.


David Gallagher, Sandringham/Frankston: speedy and risk-taking wingman with a dash of aggression who joined the Zebras after runs at Adelaide and Carlton. “Gags’’ was an essential element of the 2004-05-06 premierships, won the best and fairest in 2004 and ’09, and captained Sandy in 2011. He was a laid-back character off the field, liking his music and the arts scene, but a fierce and formidable player on it.


 Sandy's David Gallagher.

Running machine: Sandy's David Gallagher.


Adrian Fletcher, Williamstown: the 231-game AFL player had two seasons with the Seagulls. Two wonderful seasons: he won the 2002-03 best and fairests as well as the ’03 Norm Goss Medal as best-afield in the grand final success. Just as he did at the highest level he cruised the field accumulating possessions, never hurried and seemingly resistant to tackles. Former Willy GM Brendan Curry regards Fletcher as the best Towner of the past 20 years.

 Adrian Fletcher playing for Williamstown.

Silk: Adrian Fletcher playing for Williamstown.


Marc Greig, North Ballarat: former AFL coach Robert Shaw summed up Greig superbly. As he served as a radio expert comments man at a VFL grand final, Shaw observed that the defender “wears a big pair of shorts, but he can really play’’. Greig figured in three premierships for the Roosters – 2008-09-10 – was captain, played the most VFL games for the club (209) and was its last senior coach. Among opposition teams, respect for him ran deep.

 Marc Greig (right) puts his body on the line for North Ballarat.

Ripper Rooster: Marc Greig (right) puts his body on the line for North Ballarat.


Sam Gibson, Box Hill Hawks: another mature-age, second-chance VFL success story. Ditched as a Hawthorn rookie, Gibson stayed with the Hawks, developed elite endurance, won a best and fairest in good company in 2011 and was drafted to North Melbourne, playing more than 100 AFL matches on the reel.

 Box Hill Hawk Sam Gibson.

Success story: Box Hill Hawk Sam Gibson.


Chris Cain, Port Melbourne: a superbly skilled and scrupulously fair half forward and midfielder, Cain was among a group of players that gained confidence from the arrival of coach Gary Ayres in 2008. He did it all: 194 senior games, premierships in 2011 and ’17, the best and fairest and Frank Johnson Medals in 2013, and four team-of-the-year jumpers. And he did it all in style, right from his jumper being neatly pressed into his shorts, and his socks rigidly upright. With an ounce of luck he could have played in the AFL like his great mate Sam Dwyer.

 Borough dazzler Chris Cain gets a ride to the rooms.

Milestone man: Borough dazzler Chris Cain gets a ride to the rooms.


Myles Sewell, Coburg/North Ballarat: the brother of top Hawk Brad, but had a fine career of his own, being front and centre in the Roosters’ premiership romp of 2008-09-10. He earned a stash of medals, also jagging the 2009 JJ Liston Trophy, three best and fairests and the 2010 Norm Goss Medal. There were also three appearances for Victoria. In term of his running ability, Myles could go for miles.

Brothers Brad and Myles Sewell promote the Foxtel Cup.

Brothers Brad and Myles Sewell promote the Foxtel Cup.


David Robbins, Springvale/Sandringham/Port Melbourne: the crafty midfielder was something of a surprise winner of the 1999 JJ Liston Trophy when playing for Springvale. But it was to be the first of many accolades for a player as elusive as a butterfly. A Melbourne rookie in 2002, he snaffled a second Liston in 2003 when playing for Sandringham (leading votegetter Jeremy Clayton was ineligible). He also won a Frank Johnson Medal in 2001 and Sandy’s best and fairest in 2003. Crossing to the WAFL, Robbins played in two premierships for Subiaco. He returned to Victoria in 2007 and gave Port Melbourne three good seasons, ending his VFL career with 142 games.

 David Robbins handballing for Springvale in 2000.

“Robbo’’ on the go: David Robbins handballing for Springvale in 2000.


Sam Dwyer, Port Melbourne: “Spud’’ became one of the VFL’s leading midfielders after winning the competition reserve grade medal in 2007. One of those players who seemed to have time on his side, and often put his side in at the right time. Won Port’s 2009 and fairest and was part of the 2011 and ’17 premiership sides. In between the flags was a stint at Collingwood, where he had 39 AFL games.

 Sam Dwyer.

“Spud’’: Sam Dwyer.


Jeremy Clayton, North Ballarat: combative, courageous and classy rover who won the Roosters’ 2001 and ’02 best and fairests and, as a North Melbourne player, took the 2003 and ’04 top awards at Port Melbourne. He would also have won the 2003 Liston if not for a controversial suspension: he polled 20 votes but the award went to runner-up David Robbins. Clayton headed to the SANFL after being cut from the Kangaroos (after eight AFL matches) and won four best and fairests and a Magarey Medal with Port Adelaide. He was a champion state league player and had the ability to play many more AFL games.

Jeremy Clayton flying for Port Melbourne.

Jeremy Clayton flying for Port Melbourne.


Stevie Clifton, North Ballarat: the brick-hard midfielder had two stints with the Roosters, the first bringing three premierships, a share of the 2010 JJ Liston Trophy and the second a three-way tie in the 2013 Liston and another best and fairest. Clifton spent 2011-12 with GWS as a start-up player and got in five AFL games.

 Stevie Clifton bores in for North Ballarat.

Two Listons: Stevie Clifton bores in for North Ballarat.


David Mirra, Box Hill Hawks: like James Podsiadly and Ian Callinan, mid-sized defender Mirra earned a call-up to the AFL when he was closer to 30 than 20, after years of excellence in the VFL. His 11 AFL games with Hawthorn set the seal on a career that brought him the 2013 and ’18 premierships, a Norm Goss Medal, two Box Hill best and fairests, and multiple team-of-the-year honours. Last year the club named an All Star team to celebrate the 20th year of its alignment with Hawthorn. Mirra was named captain and was presumably the first player picked.

 David Mirra.

Hawks hero: David Mirra.


Travis Robertson, Werribee: among the best running defenders of the league in the first five or so years after it was revamped in 2000. Robertson was equally happy spoiling or attacking, he was rarely beaten in one-on-one passages of play and he had a hard edge to go with his dash. Won the Bees’ 2001-02-03 best and fairests, was skipper from 2004-06, played for Victoria three times and had four VFL team-of-the-year selections.

 Werribee's Travis Robertson.

Rarely beaten: Werribee's Travis Robertson.


Michael Barlow, Werribee: the midfielder was outstanding for the Bees in 2008-09, piling up possessions, earning team-of-the-year honours in both seasons and winning a best and fairest. In one match Tigers coach Simon Atkins moved him to centre half forward for the second half – and he played like Wayne Carey. “Someone draft him,’’ Atkins told Inside Football. Fremantle did, and he gave the Dockers excellent service. Barlow returned to Chirnside Park last year and was equal fourth in the Liston despite playing only 13 matches.


 Michael Barlow.

Tiger cub: Michael Barlow.


Nick Meese, Northern Blues/Williamstown: Williamstown: built more like a pub bouncer than a champion ruckman, the 195cm Meese conceded height to opponents every week. But he invariably led the hit-out count, his body work and positioning coming to the fore. He had the ruck craft down to a deft tap. Tired of having to make way for Carlton-listed players of inferior ability, Meese left the Northern Blues and joined Willy in 2014. For the next six seasons he was the premier big man in the league, helping the Towners to the 2015 premiership and winning the 2017 best and fairest.

 Williamstown ruckman Nick Meese takes front position.

Tap and wrap: Williamstown ruckman Nick Meese takes front position.


Michael Gibbons, Williamstown: the 2016 and ’18 JJ Liston Trophies, the 2015 Norm Goss Medal as best-afield in the grand final, the 2016 Frank Johnson Medal as the best representative player, a 2015 premiership medal, the 2018 Williamstown best and fairest … the onballer won everything bar the halftime raffle in his five years with Williamstown. Carlton took him in ahead of 2019 and he let no one down. Aside from his many honours, it’s worth remembering Gibbons appeared in the Development League in 2014, gaining his bearings before setting out for senior football.

 Michael Gibbons.

Mr Medals: Michael Gibbons.


Ian Callinan, Tasmania: onballer and small forward who often lit up matches with bursts of brilliance, pace, evasiveness and goalkicking. Played more than 100 matches for the Devils from 2001-08 and shared the 2005 JJ Liston Trophy. A move to the SANFL produced more honours and an unlikely call-up at the age of 28 the Adelaide Crows, for whom he played 32 AFL games.

 Ian Callinan gets boot to ball for the Devils.

Game-breaker: Ian Callinan gets boot to ball for the Devils.


Shane Valenti, Sandringham/Port Melbourne: for a little fellow Valenti cast a large shadow on the VFL and he did it through pin-sharp skills, relentless running and a willingness to ignore clear and present danger from filled-out frames. He hit the league running when he played in a premiership with Sandringham and was awarded the 2007 Fothergill-Round Medal as the league’s most promising player. It led to a 15-game, two-season stint at Melbourne, his last AFL appearance producing almost 30 possessions. Port recruited him and he claimed successive JJ Liston trophies, sharing it with Stevie Clifton of North Ballarat in 2010, then having it all to himself with a 10-vote victory. He also started favourite in the 2012 count. Valenti finished with 149 games and his best football was as good as any played in the VFL in the past two decades.


“JJ’’. Shane Valenti.

“JJ’’. Shane Valenti.


James Byrne, Geelong: strong, smart midfielder who put together a remarkable record after joining the VFL Cats from Adelaide. Was in the VFL team of the year in 2004-05-06-07-08, won the 2007 JJ Liston Trophy in a premiership season, captained the VFL team and won two best and fairests. He’d also been club champion at Glenelg and South Fremantle. A Geelong official once remarked the Cats would have drafted him if they hadn’t been so well off for AFL on-ballers. It was a surprise no other clubs jumped in.

 James Byrne.

Top Cat: James Byrne.


Orren Stephenson, North Ballarat: for years “The Big O’’ was the VFL’s most dominant ruckman. Drifting across half back to mark he was a brick wall to oppositions teams, and through the centre he gave lashings of leather to his midfielders as the Roosters reeled off the 2008-09-10 premierships. A Norm Goss Medal, a closetful of VFL team-of-the-year jumpers and two state selections were other honours for the affable big fellow. There was a late kick in his career when he was drafted by Geelong. He also played for Richmond, his 15 AFL match serving as a commendable career-capper.

 Orren Stephenson with Roosters coach Gerard FitzGerald.

“Big O’’: Orren Stephenson with Roosters coach Gerard FitzGerald.


Sam Pleming, Port Melbourne: would be No 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 on the list if Port Melbourne board man Les Quarrell had his way. The former Carlton rookie was for a long time the best key backman in the VFL, his intercept marking launching so many attacks. On some days he finished with the statistics of a busy midfielder. Consistency was his calling card; when Pleming played his 150th game for Port (he finished with more than 200 in the VFL), Quarrell was adamant he’d been named in the best more than 100 times. Like Baird, the Gippslander won two Borough best and fairests, figured in the 2011 flag and captained the VFL representative team.

 Sam Pleming.

Defensive weapon: Sam Pleming.


Chad Liddell, Sandringham: it was Sandy’s lucky day when Liddell joined them from Collingwood; he became one of their finest captains and a hall-of-fame player. He kicked long on his left-foot, was an inspiration with his desperation and was as hard as a coffin nail. As former Sandy coach Mark Williams once said of Liddell, “I think he makes a few blokes jump out of the way, our skipper.’’ Liddell played 168 games from 1999 to 2008, was premiership captain in 2004-05-06, played in the 2000 flag and took the 2002 best and fairest.


 Sandy's Chad Liddell.

Captain: Sandy's Chad Liddell.


Toby Pinwill, Port Melbourne: in a football landscape dominated by the AFL, leaving only the valleys for the VFL, the buccaneering Borough midfielder was one of the few Victorian state leaguers to establish a profile in the wider football scene. He hit like a sledgehammer but his rugged approach was complemented by good ball skills, an ability to run as hard in the last quarter as the first and a desire to set down his influence on the match. Pinwill figured in Port’s 2011 and ’17 premierships, won two best and fairests and a Norm Goss Medal (and reckons he should have won a JJ Liston Trophy!), represented Victoria and played 205 senior games.

 Port’s Toby Pinwill.

Two flags: Port’s Toby Pinwill.


John Baird, Box Hill Hawks/Port Melbourne: after two years as a Hawthorn rookie, Baird was drafted to North Melbourne after winning the 2001 Norm Goss Medal as a Box Hill Hawk. He played 46 games for the Roos, mainly as a defender. Linking with Port in 2006, Baird gradually made the move from backline to the midfield, where he achieved greatness in the VFL. There was little pace to him, but he read the play easily and used the ball with a craftsman’s care. He won two best and fairests for the Borough, captained them through their remarkable undefeated season of 2011, and finished with 206 VFL matches.

 John Baird.

Premiership skipper: John Baird.


James Podsiadly, Werribee/Geelong: as strong as a horse and owning a thumping left-foot kick, “Pods’’ was an outstanding performer at Werribee from 2003 to 2008, winning two best and fairests, the 2008 JJ Liston Trophy and a Frosty Miller Medal as the league’s leading goalkicker. He crossed to Geelong to captain its VFL team in 2009 and won another best and fairest. Then came belated recognition for his talent when the Cats drafted him at the age of 28. Podsiadly went on to be an AFL premiership player and turn out for 104 games, the last 21 of them with Adelaide. When he was at his best in the VFL no player could hold him.

 James Podsiadly gives it a hoof for Werribee.

“J Pod’’: James Podsiadly gives it a hoof for Werribee.


Nick Sautner, Sandringham/Frankston/Northern Blues: spearhead in the VFA tradition who won the Frosty Miller Medal as the league’s leading goalkicker nine times, starting with a haul of 82 in 1999. His 260 games brought him 873 goals – and every one of them was a juicy plum, yum, yum – five premierships at Sandy and nine selections in the VFL team of the year. It’s a record that gleams with achievement. Not bad for a player who struggled to get a game in Springvale’s reserves! He should have won a Frank Johnson Medal too after booting nine goals against WA (he probably still feels the snub; he had a fine-tuned sense of injustice when it came to his football). St Kilda once almost drafted him, and with his marking and reliable kicking he would have been a useful performer for the Saints.

 Nick Sautner.

Goal king: Nick Sautner.


Ben Jolley, Bendigo Bombers/Williamstown/Port Melbourne: the former AFL Bomber has enjoyed an honour-filled career of 279 matches in the VFL and at 34 is still stretching to get the most out of himself. He joined Port last year after setting the standard at Willy across 217 games. Jolley won four best and fairests in strong Towner teams, was captain from 2012-17 (including the 2015 premiership) and received the Ron James Memorial Trophy (as MVP, as voted on by the players) nine times. He’d also won the Bendigo Bombers’ best and fairest in 2006. To his coaches, he was as reliable — and durable — as bricks and mortar. There were seven team-of-the-year jumpers too; the onballer could fill a museum with all his awards and trophies. Willy old-timers thought him one of the most courageous and committed players to wear the colours. A VFL champion from head to toe — and our No 1 player of the past 20 years.

 Ben Jolley marking for Williamstown.

Inspirational: Ben Jolley marking for Williamstown.


Jeremy Clayton at 18 & No Simon Atkins, !!!

Paul has to give the grog away. !!

We might be from the bush. but we ain't green

Wally from Will...
Wally from Williamstown's picture

Brett Goodes and James Podsiadly both also played for Williamstown


A few surprises but a tough task,Lambert about 38 places too low,probably Richmond's 2nd most important mid after Martin in an incredibly strong side,dont think anyone on this list could match that.

Yeah Wal,Pods played a fair bit of footy at Willy when we were aligned with the filth,mainly in the 2s believe it or not and Goodes played a couple of seasons when he was attached to the Bulldogs staff from memory.

Would have had Frost and Clayton in the top ten,both matchwinners,and Chris Cain 22,what do you reckon Digger?

Bearsman's picture

Very surprised to see Sauntner rated the second best player. His achievements are outstanding but I think there were many better players than him. Never kicked 100 goals in the 9 times he won the Frosty. A very good player but not great.


A pretty good list I would have had Chad Liddell before Nick Sauntner as far as the Sandy players go.