Lachie Whitfield is a superstar. Pic: Getty Images
Lachie Whitfield is a superstar. Pic: Getty Images

Is this the No.1 player in the AFL?

HE may not have Patrick Dangerfield's explosiveness or Dustin Martin's goalkicking prowess, but a growing numbers of experts believes Lachie Whitfield is the best player in the AFL.

Former Melbourne and Sydney coach Paul Roos said as much in July.

"The game changes when Lachie Whitfield gets the ball and for me he is No.1 in the comp for the very reasons the game is played today," Roos said.

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The 25-year-old's playing style is an anachronism.

He looks like someone from a bygone era, a time when running wingmen such as Robbie Flower, Keith Greig and Michael Turner set up games via their run and skill execution.

And like that trio, Whitfield is a seriously smart footballer who sees the game unfolding quicker than most.

Graeme Yeats, who played at Melbourne alongside Flower, had the pleasure of coaching Whitfield for two seasons at the Dandenong Stingrays.

Lachie Whitfield runs all day and uses the ball beautifully. Pic: AAP
Lachie Whitfield runs all day and uses the ball beautifully. Pic: AAP

"He was all the things you see now, the elite running and ball usage, but even then he was someone who could sum up the game really quickly," the 54-year-old Yeats said.

"He was kicking to blokes before they even realised they were going to get it because he was just such an intelligent player.

"I love watching him during games with the amount of time he has, and the enormous capacity he has to run."

Whitfield inherited his running capacity from his mother, Maryanne, while his father Richard was a goal-kicking legend with Frankston YCW.

Whitfield's sister Emma is a police officer and they grew up in Mount Martha.

He went to Peninsula Grammar, a school that boasts Stewart Loewe, Nathan Jones and Jacob Weitering among its AFL alumni.

At school he was viewed as an excellent footballer and all-round cricketer - rather than a scholar keen to pursue the tertiary path chosen by other Peninsula products such as politicians Rob Hulls and Greg Hunt or criminal barrister Geoffrey Steward.

"When he first came through he was probably perceived as being a bit on the smallish side and not overly tough, when in fact he was mentally and physically very tough," Yeats said.

"He's also a great kid, polite, quiet and always with a smile on his face."

Greater Western Sydney travel to Brisbane to tackle the Lions tomorrow, but Whitfield has already planned his end-of-year trip - a four-week European vacation in October.

AFL chatter won't be on the agenda for a young man who loves the game when he's playing, but doesn't live and breath it when relaxing.

Lachie Whitfield in action for Vic Country during the 2012 under 18 championships. Pic: AFL Media
Lachie Whitfield in action for Vic Country during the 2012 under 18 championships. Pic: AFL Media

In fact he's more likely to talk about property, an area he's taking a growing interest in.

He is also is certain to take in some soccer games involving his beloved Liverpool.

Brisbane triple-Premiership player Luke Power first met Whitfield at GWS in late 2012.

Power had drawn a curtain on his 302-game career as his young friend was beginning his.

"Lachie was a very high draft pick, and those players are easy to like because you know they are going to be good," Power said.

"But what stuck out about Lachie, what was a bit different, is he valued the team aspects of the game and did a lot on unrewarded defensive running covering off for his teammates.

"In a game where we love watching the offensive aspects, Lachie always understood the value of defensive aspects which some players don't value it until later in their careers.

"If he doesn't get the ball he still contributes through his defensive running or ability to open up space for other players.

Whitfield (third from left) with some of the under-18 stars of 2012. How many can you name?
Whitfield (third from left) with some of the under-18 stars of 2012. How many can you name?

"His value extends to just having the ball in his hands."

Despite their 14-year age gap, Power and Whitfield formed a very close friendship which remains in place today.

"I speak with Lachie a fair bit," Power said.

"When I was with the Giants our girls were young and Lachie would always come over and be happy to read a bedside story to them.

"He gets on with everyone because he has an amazing ability to get around people from many different backgrounds.

"I remember being with him on a pre-season camp at Noosa, getting on a bus.

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"He said, 'if I got on the bus and sat next to any teammate, I would be really happy no matter who it was'. That just showed how he can mix and get on with anyone."

Power never tires of the space Whitfield can find in traffic, likening him to a champion jockey who sees an opening before anyone else.

"I think his vision in the AFL is currently unmatched," he said.

Which of course makes Whitfield extremely hot property when he comes out of contract at the end of 2020.

The bad news for potential suitors is he loves the Sydney lifestyle and loves his mates such as Stephen Coniglio, Toby Greene and Zac Williams.

News Corp Australia


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