The Noongar team of champions was announced at Subiaco Oval on Sunday with those able to get there presented with their guernseys.
The team was chosen by a selection panel made up of Kevin Sheedy, John Todd, Larry Kickett, Mal Brown, Grant Dorrington and Barry Cable. Players were eligible if they were Noongar and played in an era when video footage was available – a series of short films on Noongar footballers will screen soon on NITV.
The Noongar nation covers the south western part of Western Australia. Prominent WA Aboriginal players Syd Jackson, Ted Kilmurray, Chris Lewis, Michael Mitchell, Ashley McGrath, Daniel Wells and Troy Cook are not Noongar.
Backs: Dale Kickett, Gary Malarkey, Derek Kickett
Half back: Byron Pickett, Michael Johnson, Stephen Hill
Centres: Phil Narkle, Nicky Winmar, Peter Matera
Half Forwards: Leon Davis, Lance Franklin, Bradley Hill
Forwards: Jeff Farmer, Patrick Ryder, Jim Krakouer
Ruck: Polly Farmer, Stephen Michael, Barry Cable (coach)
Interchange: Keith Narkle, Kevin Taylor, Phil Krakouer, Chance Bateman, Allistair Pickett, Phil Matera.
The quality of the team can be measured by those who missed out including: Larry Kickett, John McGuire, Kevin Hill, Michael Walters, Lewis Jetta, Neville Jetta, Jeffery Garlett, Antoni Grover, Andrew Krakouer, Des Headland, Harley Bennell, Chris Yarran, Troy Ugle…
It turns out I’ve seen each of them play. Here are my observations…
Graham “Polly” Farmer (East Perth, Geelong, West Perth): As I became aware of footy in the early 1960s Polly was a kind of super hero. He was playing for Geelong then but had been THE East Perth champion and in our house that meant everything. I read about a bloke who hand-passed through the windows of moving cars and who played in a way no-one had played before. He came back to WA as coach of bloody West Perth in 1968 and, of course, led the Cardinals to grand final victories over East Perth in 1969 and 1971.
Barry Cable (Perth, North Melbourne, East Perth): He made my childhood a misery. Perth beat East Perth in the grand finals of 1966, 1967 and 1968 and Cable won the Simpson Medal as best-on-ground each time. I first saw him play in 1963 when Perth played the Goldfields at Boulder Oval. The first WAFL game I saw was the 1967 grand final – his kicking was incredible, I couldn’t stand him. Cable redeemed himself in my eyes when he came back from a successful time at North Melbourne and led East Perth to the 1978 premiership. By then he had reinvented himself as a player using handball to devastating effect.
Gary Malarkey (East Perth, Geelong): He held down the full back spot from a young age at East Perth and was there in his first full season when the Royals won the 1978 grand final. He wasn’t tall but he was strong and hard to beat one-on-one and those attributes helped him make of success of his time at Geelong. I played a game alongside Malarkey at Claremont Oval in 1974. Graylands Teachers Colleges first & second years (us) vs the star-studded third years. I was centre-half-forward and Malarkey played on the flank. In one passage of play I shot out a handball to Malarkey who slotted a goal. He gave me a thumbs up. (I too could have been a footy star but was too dedicated to my studies.)
Keith Narkle (Swan Districts): A key in the Swan Districts hat-trick of premierships 1982-84 and an almost reluctant captain in 1983 and 1984 (when he also won his third Swans fairest and best award). Narkle had pace, endurance, amazingly consistency and there was a sense of joy about his play.
Stephen Michael (South Fremantle): I saw Michael play his first game in 1975 and didn’t think he was much good. It didn’t take long to turn me around and for the 1980 and 1981 seasons I started following South Fremantle. I still barracked for East Perth but felt there was little chance I’d see a player like Michael again so decided to get as much of him as I could. I still haven’t seen anyone better.
Phil Narkle (Swan Districts, St Kilda, West Coast): Played alongside his brother in the 1982 and 1983 grand final wins for Swans before heading to St Kilda. Narkle was highly skilled and his ability to weave through traffic made him an joy to watch. His time in the VFL with the Saints and Eagles was stalled by inuries though he was outstanding in the inaugural WCE season (1987).
Jim Krakouer (Claremont, North Melbourne, St Kilda): There was real excitement around Jim’s arrival from Mt Barker late in 1977. The excitement grew the next year when he was joined by his brother and reached its WA climax in the 1981 WAFL grand final. While he didn’t always have control of his temper Jim seemed to have total control of the football – his kicking style left little room for error and so errors were rare. While his combination with Phil is the stuff of legend Jim was a team man – he would always give the ball to someone in a better position, especially around goal. He was interested in the team getting a goal not personal glory.
Phil Krakouer (Claremont, North Melbourne, Footscray): With his calm demeanour and curious throw-down kicking style Phil was a complementary contrast to his brother. Maybe the kicking style was about being careful – he didn’t like to waste a kick. One of his finest performances was in the 1985 elimination final when, with Jim out suspended, Phil led North Melbourne to an upset victory over over Carlton. But, of course, the two were at their best together: As Jack Dyer once said during commentary on a North Melbourne game: “He’s a good player that Krakouer brothers.”
Kevin Taylor (East Fremantle, Sydney, Swan Districts, Fitzroy): In the 1979 WAFL grand final Taylor kicked seven goals for East Fremantle in the win over South Fremantle in front of a Subiaco Oval record crowd of 52,781 and won the Simpson Medal. That year he finished with 102 goals. Taylor wasn’t a small forward as such, he spent plenty of time on the ball but his booming kick meant he didn’t need to be close to goal to be dangerous. Taylor played in the VFL without much distinction but announced himself to the national audience with some outstanding displays in State-of-Origin games. He was fearless in the air and took some of the best high marks ever seen in WA.
Nicky Winmar (South Fremantle, St Kilda, Footscray): He caught the eye immediately after arriving at South Fremantle 1983 with his pace, precise long kicking and spectacular high marking. Winmar arrived at St Kilda in 1987 as a ready-made player and became the first Aboriginal player to play 200 VFL/AFL games. When he raised his jumper and pointed to his skin in front a baying Victoria Park crowd in 1993 he changed the nation forever.
Derek Kickett (West Perth, Claremont, Central District, North Melbourne, Essendon, Sydney, Subiaco): In 1984 I became a member of the WAFL Supporters Club. It meant access to the Members Stand at Subiaco Oval. For some reason West Perth played there quite regularly and Kickett caught my eye. Maybe his prodigious talents were too much for someone at the Falcons because in 1987 he lobbed at Claremont and had one the best seasons imaginable. The baulks, the torpedo punts, the interceptions, the ridiculous marks – he won the Sandover Medal by a record margin but was ineligible due to pathetic report and even more pathetic suspension. Kickett should have more honours on his footy CV but those who saw him play for their teams in WA, SA, Vic and NSW won’t forget him. And, from I’ve been told, the fans in Tammin might have seen the best highlights of all.
Peter Matera (South Fremantle, West Coast): When he started at South Fremantle Matera had speed and loved to run ahead of the play calling for the ball to be kicked out in front of him. It wasn’t a style that was going to work at a higher level and it wasn’t long before Matera harnessed speed like few others – for him it also became a defensive weapon. Opponents panicked when Matera was in the vicinity as they knew he would be onto them if they fumbled or hesitated – chasing and tackling were among his greatest strengths. Matera’s Norm Smith Medal winning performance in 1992 when he kicked five goals from the wing is one of the most devastating displays witnessed at the MCG.
Dale Kickett (Claremont, West Coast, Fitzroy, St Kilda, Fremantle): Loved by Fremantle supporters for good reason, Kickett almost didn’t make it. Simpson Medals for Claremont in the 1991 and 1993 WAFL proved his appetite for big games but his well documented skirting around AFL clubs didn’t enhance his reputation. One problem was that he just hated Melbourne. The Dockers changed all that. Coach Gerard Neesham had made him a defender at Claremont and returned him there at Fremantle. He had flair and creativity but mostly unrivalled courage.
Jeff Farmer ((South Fremantle, Melbourne, Fremantle): He was an underaged phenonenon in Tambellup but I first saw him at Fremantle Oval in 1994. South Fremantle CEO Brian Ciccotosto pointed out a colts kid walking towards the club office, “He’s going to Melbourne, swapped for Phil Gilbert,” he said. I was in the press box at the MCG for 2000 preliminary final between Melbourne and North Melbourne. Farmer kicked eight goals. The atmosphere in that room full of seen-everything-experts was incredible. When the ball went near Farmer everyone stood up for fear of missing what he might do. Then in 2002 he lobbed, almost inevitably, at Fremantle and a new adventure started for all of us.
Phil Matera (South Fremantle, West Coast): He kicked 389 goals for the Eagles. An amazing small forward who kind of buzzed around annoying opponents and opposition fans alike. He was a forward pressure king before the term was invented. His change of direction was a killer for opponents while his ability in the air led opponents to play taller players on him, sometimes with success, mostly not.
Allistair Pickett (West Perth, Peel, Subiaco): No player in the AFL era has made such an impression in the WAFL. A tiny rover from Narrogin, Pickett played a few games for West Perth but was halted by injury. He won a Sandover Medal as a Peel player in 2002 and again as a Subiaco player in 2004. He was a premiership player with Subi four times and named in the club’s team of the century. Sometimes it looked like a little league kid had been let loose on the ground as Pickett weaved his way through heavy traffic. His kicking lacked penetration but was deadly accurate. In 2010 he played in Subiaco’s league team with his son Alliston.
Byron Pickett (Port Adelaide (SANFL), North Melbourne, Port Adelaide, Melbourne): A big game player if ever there was one – two AFL premierships and a North Smith Medal. There was something scary about his attack on the football, especially for those who got in the way. But it wasn’t all crash and bash – there was lots of hard running and precise disposal.
Leon Davis (Perth, Collingwood): Smooth and unhurried – it was extra time that enabled him to steady for those impossible shots for goal that he nailed more times than he should have. I recall a goal at Subiaco that he made out of nothing – he smoothed a Des Headland kick, won the struggle for the ball, headed off towards the boundary to get some space and, of course, kicked the goal.
Chance Bateman (Perth, Hawthorn): Little bloke with a booming kick who kick-started the Hawks in the 2008 grand final. An important figure in the history of the Hawthorn Football Club
Lance Franklin (Perth, Hawthorn, Sydney): I first saw him play in an under-aged international rules game at Fremantle Oval. He was clearly the best player out there. He continues to be the best player out there in most games he plays.
Michael Johnson (Perth, Fremantle): Sees the game differently to others. I’ve likened him to a snooker player – when he disposes of the ball he’s already thinking of the next move, often indicating where the ball should go next while the ball’s in flight. I reckon he will be a good coach.
Patrick Ryder (East Fremantle, Essendon, Port Adelaide): His dad Revis played for East Fremantle in the 1980s and was still pulling on the boots for Kambalda this year. Patrick has always been a classical, almost old fashioned leaping ruckman and 2017 was his best season.
Stephen Hill (West Perth, Fremantle): A surprise early draft pick by the Dockers and he’s repayed those who had the coursge to chose him. Watching him run when space appears is one of the joys of being a Fremantle supporter. Opponents go out of their way to ensure he doesn’t get space so he’s re-invented himself as a player several times.
Bradley Hill (West Perth, Hawthorn, Fremantle): The youngest player in the Noongar team of Champions and he’s already a triple AFL premiership player and a best and fairest winner. I took more notice of him this year and found his running so extraordinary that I’d suggest a redefining of “uncontested possession”. Hill often gets the ball on his own because he’s run opponents ragged. Has a lot of improvement in him.