SOUTH Fremantle full-forward Ben Saunders kicked four goals in the final round of the 2016 WAFL Premiership Season to secure his third Bernie Naylor Medal of the past five years since he joined the Bulldogs.
Saunders came into South Fremantle's clash with Perth needing three more goals to join Subiaco's Hamish Shepheard on 51, or four to overtake the Lions spearhead who was sitting out with his club having the bye.
Saunders ended up kicking two goals in the first quarter and a third in the second to draw level with Shepheard on 51 as South Fremantle delivered an 11- goal to nil first half.
It was early in the last quarter of the game that Saunders cemented his fourth goal to give him 52 for the season.
Saunders decided to leave Claremont at the end of 2011 following a five-goal effort in the reserves premiership of that year, but the Tigers were in the middle of winning back-to-back league flags and were a team that won four straight minor premierships in that time.
So the Mt Barker product decided he wanted to go somewhere that might provide him with more league opportunities and five years later, he has played 75 games for South Fremantle and kicked 217 goals now.
He won his first Bernie Naylor Medal in 2012 by kicking 66 goals before his 2013 was soured by two shoulder injuries. He bounced back in 2014 to kick 54 goals and win a second Bernie Naylor Medal before ankle and hamstring injuries restricted his 2015.
Saunders put an even greater focus on his fitness and taking care of his body coming into 2016 and the results have been obvious not only with his 52 goals, but his ability to work with his fellow forwards to create a dynamic set up and his ability to chase and pressure greatly improving.
The 24-year-old was glad to have won a third Bernie Naylor Medal but his focus is now much more on this Sunday's Preliminary Final against Peel Thunder at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.
"It is something I'll probably look back on more in the future as opposed to now when I have my sights focused on playing finals, which is what I'm all about. But there were a few nerve racking moments that weekend but I'm glad it's out of the way now," Saunders said.
"I went into the last round knowing I needed four goals and Schloithey was pumping me up and Blaine Johnson, Stevie and a few of the other boys were really going out of their way to kick it to me early.
While Saunders is happy to again be the league's leading goal kicker, what he has enjoyed much more about 2016 is the other forwards around him and in particular Mason Shaw who has also kicked 46 goal for the season.
"I've loved playing with Mase. He has been awesome for our forward-line and his contested marking is really strong overhead and you would back him in against anyone in the WAFL, especially on his day. On his day I don’t think anybody can get near his hands," Saunders said.
"He has been awesome to play alongside and so have a lot of the other boys as well. We've got Blaine Johnson, Cooky, Schloithey, Stevie Edwards, Tys Pickett and Strommy there with us so it's been really good playing with this forward-line.
"We have a really good dynamic going and on our day, anyone could bag out. It takes some pressure off blokes like myself and Mase to kick goals and in turn it makes it easier for us to do it because if we get shutdown, someone else will pop up."
Subiaco's Shepheard came second in the Bernie Naylor Medal race with 51 goals ahead of South Fremantle's Shaw (46), East Fremantle's Brett Peake (40), Claremont's Darcy Cameron (36), West Perth's Michael Lourey (36), Claremont's Beau Maister (35) and Subiaco's Liam Ryan (35)