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West Perth pair Keitel, Strijk share Bernie Naylor MedalWednesday, August 29, 2018 - 9:56 AM - by Chris Pike

TWO years ago Tyler Keitel and Andrew Strijk were part of a solid West Perth defensive unit but in 2018 they have been the most potent forward duo in the WAFL and as a result are sharing the Bernie Naylor Medal as the league's leading goalkicker.

In a competition where increasingly teams share their goals around and don't have one main forward target, the number of goals kicked for a season by individuals might be down but in the case of West Perth, the combination of Keitel and Strijk has worked a treat in 2018.

Keitel and Strijk both finished the 2018 season having kicked 43 goals apiece and even with the Falcons having the bye in the final round, that saw them lead the WAFL this season and for them to share the Bernie Naylor Medal.

Their 43 goals apiece saw them finish in the Bernie Naylor Medal race ahead of South Fremantle's Mason Shaw (39 goals), Subiaco's Ben Sokol (37), Claremont's Tom Lee (32), Subiaco's Lachlan Delahunty (30), Claremont's Ian Richardson (29), Swan Districts' Brayden Noble (29), West Perth's Keegan Knott (29) and Subiaco's Brad Stevenson (29).

Stevenson was the runaway leading goalkicker early in the season with 17 goals in the first four games for the Lions and he still had 27 goals after Round 11, but played just three league matches after that for the season and kicked only two more goals.

The Bernie Naylor Medal is yet another accolade to add to what has been a remarkable career at West Perth for Strijk.

It's something he is proud of and he's especially happy to share it with an emerging teammate like Keitel.

"It's something that might not mean a hell of a lot right now but it will be something that we'll look back on and think of it as a good time and be pretty proud of it," Strijk told 91.3 SportFM.

"To be able to share it with Tyler was extra special I think too. It's good that we were both able to contribute that way this year for our team."

Strijk and Keitel are the first West Perth players since 1973 to claim the Bernie Naylor Medal despite some of the star forwards the Falcons have had in that period. Phil Smith kicked 81 goals back in 1973 to lead the league's goalkicking.

The pair have also made history by being the first joint Bernie Naylor Medal winners ever from the same club and just the fourth pairing to share the award over the past 114 years.

East Fremantle's Henry Sharpe and South Fremantle's Harvey Kelly were equal leading goalkickers in 1905 while Claremont's Warren Ralph and Swan Districts' Simon Beasley couldn’t be split in 1980, and neither could South Fremantle's Craig Edwards and Swan Districts' Kevin Caton in 1992.

The 43 goals kicked by both Keitel and Strijk is the lowest total to win the Bernie Naylor Medal since the 36 kicked by East Fremantle's Denis Coffey in 1923. Since 1923, this is only the third time the league's leading goalkicker has kicked less than 50 goals.

That's not to diminish the performances of Strijk and Keitel, though, who have both had outstanding seasons in attack for a West Perth team who finished the home and away season in third position with an 11-7 record.

Keitel first came into the spotlight before he had made his league debut when he wanted to transfer from East Perth to West Perth for what he believed would be greater opportunities at league level.

Disagreements between the two clubs delayed his start to the 2015 season before he made his league debut and by 2016, he was one of the best key defenders in the competition with his intercept marking and ability to set up play for West Perth out of the back-line.

But last year he was more needed in attack for West Perth and showed he is just as capable of being a match-winner up forward. 

He took 109 marks for the season to be second among key forwards while having more shots than everyone aside from Liam Ryan. Ended up kicking 46.43 for the season, the most of all key forward targets, including a career-best seven in Round 18 against Perth.

So it was no surprise to see him anchored forward again in 2018 and the 22-year-old ended up taking 105 marks in two fewer games last year while kicking 43.36 to be more accurate and score at a higher average than in 2017.

Keitel kicked a season-high six goals against East Perth in Round 9 while also kicking five against Perth in Round 5 and four against Swan Districts in Round 16.

The story of Strijk to become a Bernie Naylor Medal winner is even more remarkable.

He started the season in a more customary role playing off half-back for West Perth where he's able to use his running power and long kicking ability to great effect.

Then when West Perth lost Kody Manning to a season-ending knee injury, it was likely that Strijk would have to settle across half-back but with Blake Wilhelm helping to fill that role, Strijk was able to go forward and the results have been tremendous.

Through most of his 224-game league career, Strijk has either played at half-forward or half-back, but it's been a different story after Round 4 this season.

Coach Bill Monaghan put Strijk deep forward in Round 5 against Perth and he kicked three goals from seven shots and the seed was planted to keep him there where he could use his smarts and one-on-one abilities to become a big-time goalkicker.

It ended up working a treat with Strijk going on to kick a career-best eight goals in Round 7 against East Fremantle along with five against Claremont in Round 11 and four goals on another four occasions. 

He ended up kicking 42 of his goals in the last 15 games of the season when moved into attack to add a Bernie Naylor Medal to what already is a remarkably decorated career.

Strijk is a premiership player and fairest and best winner at West Perth while being a life member for having reached the 150-game mark. He has also played for the WAFL State Team on seven occasions and played 13 AFL matches with West Coast in the AFL.

Despite having 224 matches under his belt, there are no signs of Strijk slowing down and his focus now turns to trying to break an eight-game losing run against South Fremantle in this Saturday's qualifying final at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.

It could also be the last time he plays against retiring Bulldog Ashton Hams depending on how the rest of the finals series pans out.

"It's not a good track record to be honest and it's made more difficult because I'm good friends with Ashton Hams and he lets me know about it quite often about our record against them," Strijk said.

"To be honest I don’t think it's anything in particular, they are a very good side and they have finished second three years in-a-row now for good reason. 

"They are pretty well balanced across the ground and have a good mixture with young and good experience. They are a fantastic side but we've been close the last couple of times and I think we're due."

It's hard to ignore the difficulties off-field the Falcons have been struck by in recent times too putting the club's future in jeopardy. But he and the playing group are just focusing on their job at hand.

"Our focus as a playing group has been on playing football at this stage but from all reports and what we're hearing, things are starting to move in a positive direction and people are starting to get behind this great club," Strijk said.

"That's fantastic for us and for all our supporters out there, and hopefully the old Garlic Munchers keep kicking on."