Lance Franklin. Jonathan Brown. Nick Riewoldt. Josh Kennedy.

They are some of the modern era’s greatest forwards; and one man who faced the unenviable task of stopping them all rated West Coast’s goalkicking machine as his toughest opponent.

Luke McPharlin, the ex-Hawthorn and Fremantle defender ranked by Kennedy as his most difficult defender to shake, paid equal tribute to the retiring Eagle this week, rating the challenge of nullifying him above some of the biggest names in the game this century.

“When I was younger Matthew Lloyd and those types were very hard to play on but later in my career I would rate JK as my toughest opponent,” McPharlin told

“I played on Franklin and he was a superb player but he wasn’t likely to take a big pack mark like JK would.

“You felt like at ground level or in the air JK was going to be a threat, so that’s what made him my toughest opponent in the latter parts of my career.

“I’m quite comfortable in saying that - he was a superb player.”

Josh Kennedy and Luke McPharlin battle for the ball in round three, 2015

Since Kennedy confirmed Sunday's clash against Adelaide at Optus Stadium would be his final bow on the big stage, tributes have poured in from across the AFL landscape.

The 34-year-old warhorse will exit the game as the Eagles' all-time leading goalkicker, a three-time All-Australian, dual Coleman medallist and premiership star - and a player whose legacy will endure at West Coast.

None of his success was by accident, as those who have ever witnessed his constant movement and leading patterns on gameday, or ferocious appetite for hard work on the training track, can attest.

“It’s his workrate, number one, that made him great,” 2018 premiership teammate Will Schofield offered.

“He’s a great mark, great kick for goal, great bodywork, he’s got strong hands, but there’s a lot of players in the comp that were like that. But his workrate was second-to-none really.

“Not necessarily big, long leads like (Nick) Riewoldt, but the little stuff he used to do like in-and-out leads, getting behind you, always moving. You were never comfortable as a backman.

“He also knew he could outwork you, so he always had that in his back pocket. I certainly didn’t play on anyone at AFL level that was harder to play on than Josh Kennedy.

“There wasn’t a time in my career where I thought ‘Oh, geez, I haven’t worked this hard before’, because I’d done it at training.”

Josh Kennedy and Will Schofield at training in 2018

One of those occasions was during pre-season in January 2020 ahead of Schofield’s last campaign, when the two athletic big men battled to exhaustion in a one-on-one drill captured on camera.

“The drill was three efforts and a lead at someone kicking the footy. Final effort was a kick to top of square,” Schofield recalled.

“We hadn’t trained very well as a squad and ‘Kenners’ just came up to me quietly and said ‘We’ve got to have a crack here. We’ve got to show the young boys we’ve got to lift the standards’.

“Given my time of 15 years training with him not much more needed to be said. We went straight to the front of the group and went at it.

“After about 17 free-kicks against me … I got the ball to ground every time, which is what you want to do as the backman, so I was leading the drill if you could have a winner.

“Then I had him in prime position, front shoulder, and the ball got kicked up and I thought I’ve got this but then just a whip of the hips, a little bit of space and he came down and marked it.

“It’s still easily – easily – in terms of memory the hardest one-on-one drill I’ve ever done.”

While Schofield has known Kennedy since the big spearhead’s first day at West Coast, fellow Northampton product Harry Taylor can claim an even longer friendship dating back to their days kicking the dew off the ground in under-10s.

Taylor went on to become a great of the Geelong Football Club, and the Mid-West stars played against each other on numerous occasions during their storied careers.

Like many, Taylor clearly recalls Kennedy’s famous snapped goal after Nic Naitanui’s deft tap in round nine, 2020 at Optus Stadium against the Cats as an unforgettable moment on the bearded Eagle's career highlights reel - even though Taylor was his direct opponent at the stoppage. 

But it was the long-time Eagles vice-captain and forward line leader’s willingness to sacrifice for others that resonates most.

“Certainly, his selflessness is something that really jumps off the page,” said Taylor, who trained with Kennedy in Geraldton during the off-season in the latter stages of their careers.

“You’d expect someone who’s kicking the majority of the goals to not be considered the most selfless player, but I always felt playing against West Coast and lining up on JK a fair bit how he was so selfless bringing teammates into the play or setting other players up really stood out to me.

“What you don’t get to see unless you’re out there is their running patterns to open up space for other people, little blocks, the way they use their voice – all the things they do where they don’t actually get a stat that makes a hell of a difference to the overall team performance.

“I think he was such a leader in that area.”

Kennedy has always been team-first

That’s not to say Kennedy wouldn’t take the game by the scruff of the neck when required - even back in the under-10s. 

“Lots of fond memories,” Taylor said of their junior football days.

“I vividly remember JK playing in the ruck, him knocking it down to me and I handballed back to him and he kicked the ball from the centre circle – probably about a 40m kick, so a reasonable distance for under-10s – and he nailed the goal.

“It’s funny how the character and capability you have at such a young age, they often still show themselves no matter what level you play at.”

That raw talent that shone through on the Northampton underage oval still remains to this day, even if Kennedy's athleticism might not be what it once was with a bung knee and a body that has been pushed to its limits. 

But in his prime, West Coast's fabled full-forward was nigh on unstoppable. 

"You always had to have your wits about you because you knew he could mark it in a pack going back with the flight, or he could get it on the lead or he could gather at ground level and snap on his left or right side,” McPharlin said.

“As far as forwards go he had the whole kitbag, so he was a really difficult match up and clearly his workrate made him hard as well.

“I played on Riewoldt, Brown and Franklin, but he seemed to have the full kitbag of tricks so I always felt like I had to be super on my game every time I played against him.

“The moment that stands out for me … I watched him chase out one of our running backs for 100m out of our back 50m – this was late in the last quarter and the game was well and truly done – and there was no need for him to do it.

“I remember thinking ‘he is an absolute gun’ and I had the utmost respect for him because he wasn’t dictated by scoreboard or the state of the game.

“It was just full effort at every opportunity. That’s stood out in my mind as one of his greatest traits.”