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Bulldogs spearhead Saunders adds Simpson Medal to collection

Sunday, June 4, 2017 - 12:47 PM by Chris Pike
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HE has won three Bernie Naylor Medals already in his 86-game career with South Fremantle and Ben Saunders again showed his remarkable talents kicking six goals to win the Simpson Medal in the WAFL's historic state game victory over the VFL.

Saunders might not have been able to cement a spot in a supremely strong Claremont team back in 2010 and 2011. He had managed just five senior games for eight goals but in 18 reserves matches in 2011, he kicked 68 goals.

He without question had the potential to be a star in the WAFL, it was just opportunity that he was after.

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With Claremont having won the 2011 premiership and set to win the flag again in 2012, despite Saunders kicking five goals in the reserves grand final it was going to be tough to break into that star-studded forward-line.

So he decided to make the move to South Fremantle in 2012 and it has been tremendously successful.

He has now kicked 244 goals in 86 matches with the Bulldogs and has won three Bernie Naylor Medals along the way as the competition's leading goalkicker.

While he has proven himself an outstanding goalkicker at WAFL level, Saunders has also shown he is more than ready to step up in State Games.

His previous two appearances were proof of that with him kicking five goals in the win over the NEAFL in Sydney in 2014 and then another five majors in last year's record 134-point win over Tasmania at Steel Blue Oval.

So 10 goals in two State Games already meant that putting him at full-forward as the main forward target by WAFL State coach Michael Broadbridge on Saturday against the VFL seemed obvious, particularly after the withdrawal of Subiaco's Liam Ryan.

And Saunders didn’t fail to deliver performing in outstanding fashion in his first game in Melbourne.

WA State Game history the top for Broadbridge http://www.wafootball.com.au/news/12511/wa-state-game-history-the-top-for-broadbridge
State Game – WAFL v VFL Match Report http://www.wafootball.com.au/news/12471/state-game-%E2%80%93-wafl-v-vfl-match-report

Saunders got his big day going early in the second quarter when he grabbed the ball in a contest on the half-forward flank, threw it onto his boot and dribbled through a goal that travelled at least 60m.

Minutes later he flew and took a spectacular mark and went back to drill his second goal. He snapped threw a third before half-time and then it was the Saunders show in the second half.

He kicked another three goals but he just simply won the ball anytime it came near him.

Accuracy was the only thing stopping him from a day that could have smashed the record books. He ended up with seven behinds to go with his six goals from 13 kicks. He didn’t have a kick for the day that wasn’t a shot on goal.

It was more than enough for him to earn the Simpson Medal on a historic day for WA football with the WAFL defeating the VFL by 63 points. It was the first time a WA team has ever beaten Victoria in Melbourne.

Saunders certainly enjoyed the experience of being the focal point in the WAFL team's forward-line.

"I had a few shots on goal it's fair to say. I hit the post a couple of times, which was unfortunate, but at least I was close," Saunders told TAB Radio.

"I'll take that many shots every day if I could get it. The smaller ground kind of suited me well over there. The 50m arc ended up being 48 and the square almost touched the arc so the smaller ground really helped me stay deep."

Saunders has now represented the WAFL on three occasions, kicked 16 goals and won on each occasion.

He is proud to play for WA and pull on the black and gold jumper, and now to have been part of history in Melbourne.

"I think it's a massive honour to represent the state. There's so much history involved in it and it was such a big deal back in the day, and I love still getting to be involved in it today in some form," he said.

"Something like that definitely doesn’t happen too often. It's been 100 years coming before we could beat the Vics over there so it's a great feeling to be part of that.

"It was something we touched on before the game and during it also so we knew it was a chance to make something special and create history as long as we could execute what we went over there to do. And on the day we were lucky enough to do it."

It's now back to business for Saunders and his South Fremantle teammates Haiden Schloithe, Ryan Cook and Tim Kelly who were part of WA's victory over Victoria in Melbourne on Saturday.

The Bulldogs take on East Fremantle in the traditional WA Day Foundation Derby at East Fremantle Oval with South Fremantle needed to win and end a two-game losing streak to consolidate second position on the WAFL ladder.

Looking at the bigger picture, Saunders hopes to help South Fremantle win its first premiership since 2009.

"I'm honoured to be playing at South Fremantle an I'm really just trying to chase down that premiership," Saunders said.

"I think we have a great chance this year. I thought we had a good chance last year as well but Peel sneaked through and knocked us off before we got a shot at it. We've been working pretty hard the last few years and Todd Curley is a great coach.

"He has helped us gel together and create a culture at the club where I'm thoroughly enjoying it and I know a lot of other boys are too. We'll try our best to go as far as we can this year. Hopefully we can go all the way."