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Keunen continues to fight through obstacles all the way to 200Friday, August 3, 2018 - 2:19 PM - by Chris Pike

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NOTHING West Perth ruckman Chris Keunen has earned over his 200-game WAFL career has come easy, and someone with less strength of character or maybe a less motivating wife, might have given up along the way but that only makes the milestone all the more meaningful now.

Keunen arrived as a tall, athletic and mobile ruckman from Victoria to West Perth ahead of the 2006 WAFL season initially on the recruiting of coach Darren Harris, who soon made way for Todd Curley ahead of that 2006 season to join the West Coast Eagles.

Immediately Keunen appeared to have all the tools to be a premier ruckman in the WAFL, but those early years were marred by him being stuck behind the likes of Robert Warnock, Mark Seaby and even at times Mitch Andrews in the pecking order.

Keunen played 67 league games over those first five years and there were some moments he thought he might be better served elsewhere, but once he got his crack as No. 1 ruckman in 2011 he never looked back.

Over that period of 2011 through to the end of 2015, Keunen cemented himself as one of the very best and most consistent ruckmen in the WAFL and was instrumental in West Perth reaching two Grand Finals, winning a premiership and he played State football and earned life membership.

But his journey seems as though it was never meant to be easy. The past two years for Keunen have been marred by injury and then he's been at times overlooked at selection even when it's been bewildering including the first semi-final against Peel in 2016.

But to his everlasting credit, Keunen has stuck to his guns, not given in and now once again he is the clear No. 1 ruckman at West Perth in 2018, is right back to the form he showed in those peak years of his career and the 34-year-old now will celebrate game 200 on Saturday against South Fremantle at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.

While Keunen has actually already played his 200th game for West Perth and qualified for the 200 Club, it's this Saturday that the club decided to celebrate the milestone for one of the more deserving players to have reached the double century.

It's a richly deserved milestone considering the hurdles he's overcome along the way having had to wait patiently to becomeNo. 1 ruckman, then deal with a broken leg, toe and finger in recent years on top of not always being in favour at the selection table.

He is understandably proud of the 200-game milestone, whether it was a few weeks back or this Saturday is irrelevant in the bigger picture, and not only is he proud to get there, but he hopes West Perth can make a real statement and snap a seven-game losing run against South Fremantle.

"There have been a lot of ups and downs, especially the last few years with injuries and stuff. It's just the next box that I wanted to tick off when you start to look at the things you can possibly achieve as your career goes on," Keunen said.

"This ticks off that next box and I found out I'm going to be inducted into the 200-club and I probably don’t feel worthy of being part of that compared to some of the other names part of that. But it is something special to be included in something as prestigious as that so it's a huge honour.

"I'm just looking forward to getting it done now. It's almost like another game even though I've tried to enjoy the build up with a bit more focus on myself which is something I try to avoid as much as I can. 

"It has been nice to soak it up and it's a big game for us a team to try and get a break in that second spot. This is also the side that has been a bogey for us and need to get it off our back to have that mental edge before coming up against them in the finals. I'm excited to get out there and have a crack at it."

While Keunen had an outstanding run for five straight years from 2011 through 2015, there's every chance that this 2018 season is his most satisfying simply because there were times the last two years where he thought his career might have been done, and he felt he might have been written off.

 

But West Perth has needed him to stand tall this season without any other genuine ruck options ready for league football and he is delivering a tremendous season for a team currently sitting second on the ladder.

"I'd say this is probably my most satisfying season in a lot of ways, especially after the way the last couple of years have gone. It's a good feeling to prove that I can still play footy at the level I'm going at right now," Keunen said.

"I even had a chat to Bill last year and he asked how I'd feel if I didn’t make the 200, so to come out and have played every game this season barring the one I got dropped for in controversial circumstances has been nice. It's been good to prove that I can still do it.

"The biggest thing has just been having continuity playing footy again. I was able to get through the whole pre-season without having an injury and have been able to play some continuous football the whole season really compared to the last couple of years. 

"In 2016, I broke my leg in Round 3 which was our second game and then last year I broke my toe in the pre-season which pushed me back, and then I broke my finger in Round 2. 

"Really having that continuity has allowed me to play some good footy again, but really I've just enjoyed being able to play again. Realistically all my injuries have been contact ones, I haven’t had any soft tissue problems so hopefully the body keeps holding up."

Tracing right back to the end of 2005 when Keunen was first approached to join West Perth having been playing at St Bernards in the VAFA, he firstly accepted the challenge because of a desire to play at a higher level and the timing was right for him and then girlfriend Anna.

"The main reason moving across was just for an opportunity to play at a higher level. At that point I was playing amateur footy in Melbourne and enjoying myself, but I got the call from Harro and it was an opportunity that just came at the right time I guess for Anna and myself," he said. 

"We had both just finished uni so we thought we'd give it a go. At that time, we said we'd do it for two years and see how it went but 13 years later we are still here and definitely call Perth home. We've had the two kids who love it over here and we are still certainly enjoying ourselves in the climate that we've got."

It didn’t take long for Keunen to realise Perth felt like home upon arrival and he's now married to Anna with the couple having children Xavier and Hayley. 

Feeling at home at West Perth took a little longer, but now overall it's been the most move of his life.

"It probably wasn’t really about 2010 or 2011 when I felt that West Perth was really home for me when I started to get continuity to play league footy when before it was up and down when I was in and out a lot," Keunen said.

"There were a few times when it didn’t feel the right fit for me through opportunities and timing of it all, but in terms of living in Perth, once we stepped off the plane just about it felt like home for us.

"We had that two-year bracket to start with, but after six months we realised we were happy here and started to look at buying a house. It almost felt like Perth was meant to be for us and it took a bit longer at West Perth, but we got there and definitely feel a strong part of the club."

The Keunen story has been quite the rollercoaster ride and it looked like it might not get a happy ending at times over the past two years. He felt that himself early last year, but his wife quickly snapped him out of it and he's glad she did considering the football he's now playing again.

"I almost got to that point last year when I broke my finger to be honest. I had the X-rays and when I saw them come back, I turned to Anna and said that I'm done," he said.

"She was probably the strongest motivating drive in telling me I wasn’t finished yet and told me to get over it and move on, and work on getting back. 

"In that respect, she was the one who drove me to keep going for this year again because in Round 2 last year I thought I was finished and lost a bit of drive having broken the leg the year before. 

"I was a little bit over missing that much footy but that was the only point I've really thought I was finished. But Anna told me to pick my lip up and get over myself, so that's what I did."

Another time where it might have appeared the writing was on the wall for Keunen was when he was left out of the West Perth team for the 2016 first semi-final against Peel despite the Thunder team consisting of Jonathon Griffin, Michael Apeness and Zac Clarke.

Instead of taking that as a sign to walk away, Keunen used it as motivation and he didn’t quite get to prove his point in 2017, but he sure is in 2018.

"To be honest I remember that Thursday night with a great deal of clarity. Bill called my name out to come have a chat and you kind of know exactly what's happening. When he uttered the words that we were going in without you in the side, I expected him to say they were going with Seva instead of me because of the talls Peel had," Keunen said.

"But I was shocked when he said they were going without a ruckman and that was tough take. I don’t mind admitting a few tears rolled down my cheek at that moment and I had to take a few minutes to compose myself before walking back into the room with the boys. 

"But I went back into the team meeting and composed myself because I thought I'd still be a chance to play the next week if we won. Then it was tough coming to that game when nobody knew I wasn’t playing and all the supporters came up to me wishing me good luck for the game.

"It certainly made it difficult and at that point I had thoughts of retiring because I hadn't played as well as I would have liked that year, but I was motivated to keep going and Anna thought I had a bit left. It also gave me that added motivation to prove that decision was wrong at the time because I probably felt I could have played in that game and had some sort of impact."

While there were some down moments, the undoubted high for Keunen was the pivotal role he played in the 2013 Grand Final victory against East Perth.

He had to virtually take on Paul Johnson and Scott Lycett single-handedly in the ruck, but more than held his own to earn his stripes as a premiership player which he will forever cherish.

"Obviously winning a premiership is the aim and that year was something pretty special from a personal and team point of view. To be able to contribute and play my role was pretty special," Keunen said.

"Then afterwards to have plenty of people praise me for how I went about it and on Breckler Medal night I got some decent votes for that game as well, which made me feel good for how I went about that game and the season as a whole. 

"I just tried to contribute what I could for the side and I probably got absolutely pantsed in the hit outs, but I think when we sat back and watched it I had enough influence on getting them to place it where we wanted it which allowed us to win clearances and control a bit of the game."