Friday, April 28, 2017 - 12:59 PM by Chris Pike

AS Jay van Berlo prepares to earn West Perth life membership by playing his 150th game on Saturday against Perth at HBF Arena, he can't help but pinch himself over everything he's achieved in his career to date.

Van Berlo has become a remarkably decorated player over his 149-game career to date having won Breckler Medal fairest and best awards in 2008 and 2016, playing in the 2013 premiership, representing Western Australia three times and playing 32 matches in the AFL with Fremantle.

He was also co-captain alongside Luke Tedesco for two years and is now in his second season as sole skipper at the Falcons ahead of earning life membership by playing his 150th game on Saturday at HBF Arena against Perth.

But it was never a given that van Berlo would even play one West Perth league game or follow on from the lead of older brother Nathan who began his career at the Falcons before going on to the AFL with Adelaide.

In fact he didn’t come down to West Perth for his first eligible colts season instead remaining at Whitford Junior Football Club. It was only a phone call from then football manager Ryan Lasscock that got him down to West Perth the next year.

After a pre-season, coach Gavin Bell included van Berlo in his colts squad and the rest is history.

He went on to make his league debut in 2007 and then had a tremendously consistent 2008 season to go on and win the fairest and best award before being rookie-listed by the Dockers.

Van Berlo played 32 games across his time in the AFL at Fremantle before returning full-time to West Perth in 2013 to be part of the premiership team.

In the three years since, van Berlo was runner-up in the fairest and best twice before winning last year's Breckler Medal along with being co-captain and then sole skipper with his remarkable consistency in the midfield a standout for the Falcons.


Ahead of game 150 this Saturday, van Berlo can hardly believe everything he has been able to achieve along the journey to the life membership.

"It's way, way more than I would have ever thought or hoped I could have achieved," van Berlo said.

"When I first came down to West Perth it was a phone call from Ryan Lasscock, who is now the colts coach again, and I remember almost shaking at the thought that someone from West Perth wants me to come down and train. 

"That was after I missed my first year of colts because I was playing down at my local club so it was a big thing to have the chance to do the pre-season with the colts group. Gavin Bell was the coach at that time and similarly when he told me that I would be selected in the colts squad for the year I was absolutely rapt. 

"To think that I'm now at the point where I've had a bit of success and played enough league football to be a life member and played in a premiership, having my name on the locker and being captain, it's amazing. 

"If I think back to the day I got that first phone call and there's no way I would have thought any of this was possible. It's such a great club and such a proud club with so many great players before me and there'll be so many better players after me, but I'm just stoked to be a small part of a club with great history."

The standout trait of van Berlo's 149-game career that stood out right back in 2008 has been his consistency. He takes pride in there now being little between his best and worst performances, but reality is that was something he had under control from early on in his league career.

Now as the 28-year-old is about to play his 150th game, his consistency is something he takes great pride in.

"This year my first couple of games were a bit quieter than I would have liked but the beauty of it was the boys were picking up the slack around me. Since then I have worked really hard to get myself back into the fold to contribute to the team the way I hope to," he said.

"As you get older the difference between your worst narrows and I like to pride myself on that a little bit that you will know what you're going to get from me when I run out. That's very similar to our other senior players like Andrew Strijk and Aaron Black who you always know what you'll get from before they run out. 

"It is nice knowing I'm playing some decent footy. I don’t really want to be out there and past my best and I don’t want to ever hang on too long and be keeping someone else out of the side who deserves the spot more than me. For the meantime while I'm playing footy and I'm enjoying it, it's going well and hopefully I can keep up some form and stay injury free."

Van Berlo admits to finding games now taking more out of his body than ever before, but over the past 18 months he has been able to play and train relatively pain free. 

For someone who has nearly played 200 senior games and is 28 years of age, that's something he isn’t complaining about.

"Last year was probably the best year I've had in a while in terms of my body. I felt really pain-free most weeks and I hadn’t been used to that. I wasn’t carrying any lingering issues throughout last year and this year has been much the same so far," van Berlo said.

"I've managed to get through relatively unscathed other than the bumps and bruises here and there, but you do take that little bit longer to recover week to week as you start to get older. 

"After the game in general now I'm a lot more fatigued come the final siren than I ever used to be, but I think that's both down to the pace of the game and that I'm getting that little bit older. 

"These days by the end of the afternoon I'm pretty wrecked and by the time I get home I'm ready to settle in for the night, but that's not such a bad thing."

The captaincy is also something van Berlo is proud to have the honour of doing and he has no doubt it's something he continues to get better at.

But looking back, he's glad he got to do it alongside Tedesco the first two years given the legacy that Jason Salecic left.

"I think it was great that we took on the captaincy together Luke and I because it was such a tough role to follow on from after Jason Salecic and the impact he had on the football club. It was great for me to have Ted there and for me to be there for Luke as well," he said.

"We helped each other get through it together and our first year after Jason exited was tough both on and off the field for a number of reasons, and we were thrown right in the deep end. But we got through it together and responded in 2015 in good fashion. 

"Since then I've been captain myself and it was great to still have Luke there last year, and now I feel as though I've grown in my leadership and I'm quite confident in what I'm doing and how I'm approaching my captaincy. 

"I'm trying to really work with the next crop of leaders coming through with guys like Aaron Black, Tyler Keitel and Luke Meadows to try and impart some knowledge onto them so that when one of them is thrust into the role and they are the new group of senior players that they are ready for it.

"That's the focus now for the likes of myself, Strijky, Matt Guadagnin and Chris Keunen. We are really trying to set the club up to have sustained success."

Van Berlo is also relishing the opportunity to train and play alongside younger brother Mitch again in 2017.

The prospect of the three van Berlo brothers all playing together in the WAFL with West Perth now looks a forlorn hope with Nathan settled in Adelaide following his AFL career.

But the chance of all three playing somewhere together at least in a one-off game is something the trio won't give up on.

"We've definitely talked about it but Nathan is probably unlikely to be coming to play WAFL given that he's fairly settled over there at the moment. We have never played together as a group though," he said.

"I've been really lucky to have had the opportunity to play with Mitchell and just to even train with him is something that I know Nathan is jealous about me getting that opportunity. I love playing with Mitch and he has grown a lot as a footballer over the last couple years, but the three of us have always talked about wanting to play together. 

"It would be great fun and a good moment, and an especially proud one for mum and dad. But I just don’t know how it will work at the moment. 

"It will probably be with Nathan and I being two old baggers in the forward-line and Mitch doing all the running around in the midfield for a country or local team. But one day the plan is to play together at some level but I just don’t know how far off that is at the moment."

Van Berlo's preparations for his 150th game haven’t quite been ideal with him being in Singapore all week for a work conference.

He returns on Friday night but barring any unforeseen circumstances, he will be right to play on Saturday and is happy with the help he receives to be able to juggle the commitments at both work and the football club.

"It can be difficult at times but it's something that I have adapted to over the years. I'm really lucky in that both my employer and coach are flexible and trust me and give me some leniency on both ends," van Berlo said.

"If that means I'm late to a training because of work then Bill's OK with that and if I have miss something at work or fly back a bit earlier or later, then the boss is quite flexible with that too. 

"I'm really fortunate that both coach and employer give me that leeway and that's probably allowed me to play up to this point now because of their support on both ends. 

"It has been challenging at times and this week is a challenge in itself, but I've adapted to it now and it's become part of life. It works out and while it's working it's all good and everyone's happy, especially myself."