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Gary Stocks  April 13, 2018 2:00 PM

Mark LeCras will play his 200th AFL game on Saturday

Mark LeCras will play his 200th AFL game on Saturday

Recruiting staff in the AFL have grown accustomed to the retrospective whacks from football aficionados.

The armchair critics like to take aim at the inexact science of assessing the attributes of growing teenagers, gazing into a crystal ball and visualising the type of player they will become.

When the West Coast Eagles recruiting staff watch clever forward Mark LeCras run onto the ground on Saturday night, to play his 200th game, they could be excused for momentarily feeling a sense of pride at what he has achieved.

Selected with pick No.37 in the 2004 national draft, the Eagles recruiters got it right.

Of course that was not a surprise, given he had represented WA in the 18s championships in 2004, after which he was named all-Australian. 

A John Worsfold medallist, all-Australian, twice the club’s leading goal-kicker and he sits behind only Peter Sumich and Josh Kennedy for career West Coast goals. It’s a fair resume.

He has proven to be a durable performer over the course of his career, over-coming a lost season in 2012 with a knee reconstruction when at the peak of his powers, and is both a respected teammate and rock-solid clubman.

To emphasise the fact that the Eagles drafted smartly, none of the 30-odd players drafted after LeCras are still playing. Indeed, only seven others recruited in that ballot are still competing at the highest level – Brett Deledio (pick 1), Jarryd Roughead (#2), Ryan Griffen (#3), Lance Franklin (#5), Jordan Lewis (#7), Lynden Dunn (#15) and Matt Rosa (#29).

Interestingly, only Roughead and LeCras remain with the clubs to which they were originally drafted.

Another quirky fact about that draft is that two of LeCras’ current coaches also featured in that talent pool. His close friend and WA 18s teammate Nathan van Berlo was snared by Adelaide with pick 24 while North Melbourne used pick 74 to draft Daniel Pratt, who had previously been on the Brisbane rookie list.  

While LeCras has spent some time through the midfield he has predominantly played forward and in conjunction with Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Jamie Cripps has been a mainstay of the Eagles attacking power.

In his 199 games he has kicked 417 goals, so many of them created only from half chances. His signature move has been the bouncing goal from deep in the pocket, either pocket, and has done so at big moments in big games.

The 31-year-old son of Peter and Leonie LeCras, he had footy in his DNA from birth. Peter was an accomplished player with East Fremantle during the glory years of the WAFL and passed on some of his attributes.

The family moved to the crayfishing town of Cervantes many years ago, where LeCras’ passion for two other past times – fishing and surfing – were forged.

Doubtless, when his AFL career is eventually done, he will settle back in that beautiful hamlet about a 90 minute drive north of the city.

For now, though, his focus is squarely on football as he becomes just the 19th Eagle to play 200 games. He joked during the week that his milestone would be over-shadowed by the 150th game of close mate and cult figure Nic Naitanui.

Certainly there has been plenty of attention on the athletic big man and LeCras is probably happy to have that achievement occurring on the same day because it has taken some of the spotlight off his own milestone.

While there have been a few jibes in the locker room, they will inwardly be delighted for each other.

And a measure of the standing that both hold within the club, is that vice-captain Josh Kennedy was determined to be there too. He wouldn’t be playing if he wasn’t right, but he desperately wanted to be part of the night.

Some of those armchair critics, quick to pass judgment on young men playing at elite level, should also take a step back.

LeCras had his critics a little less than 12 months ago, when his output was not to his usual standards. They put that down to age.

Truth is, sometimes the little Frenchman is too tough for his own good. He had a debilitating hip injury and rather than taking the time off to get it right, he felt he needed to play to assist the team’s cause of winning games.

His start to the 2017 campaign was a mirror image of how he has started this year, where he has been central to two wins from three starts. He has maintained his average of better than two goals a game, but his tackling pressure has been superb.

In the absence of Kennedy – and surrounded by the youthful exuberance of Liam Ryan, Willie Rioli and Jake Waterman – he, Cripps and Darling have been leaders in the forward half.

For LeCras, a committed family man, his 200th game will be special and it will be an occasion he will share with his parents, brother Brent, wife Emily and children Molly and Rex. He certainly deserves to reflect on a wonderful achievement and to look for more to come.