WHO IS your club's best defender this century?

The team at AFL.com.au has scoured the best backmen in the country, be it a key-position player or a dashing half-back, in an attempt to name your best defender since 2000.

Watch AFL On Demand

A free entertainment destination showcasing the best of AFL

Watch Now

In making our decisions, we only factored in their form from 2000-onwards. Therefore, the chances of certain players could be hindered if they did their best work in the 1990s.

Here is the best of the best down back.

BEST SINCE 2000 Who is your club's best forward?
BEST SINCE 2000 Who is your club's best ruckman?
BEST SINCE 2000 Who is your club's best midfielder?

>> HAVE YOUR SAY on the who is the best in the poll at the bottom

Adelaide Crows

Andrew McLeod (239 games from 2000-2010)

He might be best remembered for his back-to-back Norm Smith Medals in 1997-98, but plenty of McLeod's stunning football was played in this century. McLeod played significant portions of his career across half-back as well as through the midfield, with his striking run and brilliant skills always a class above. The games record holder for the Crows retired at the end of 2010, and has since been inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame. Key defenders Ben Rutten, who was a crucial part of the club's rise in the mid-2000s, and Daniel Talia, who recorded the most spoils of any AFL player in the past decade, were other leading contenders. - Callum Twomey

00:00 Mins
Published on

Fantastic Five: McLeod's best moments

Take a look back at some of the greatest moments from Adelaide champion Andrew McLeod

Published on

Brisbane Lions

Justin Leppitsch (120 games from 2000-2006)

Surprisingly, only two Lions defenders from their period of dominance were named dual All-Australians in the early 2000s – Leppitsch and Chris Johnson. Leppitsch was selected first due to his ability to play tall on opposition big men, while also contributing on the rebound. Daniel Rich has been a fantastic contributor for the Lions across half-back and Joel Patfull won two best and fairests in years of finals misses. Leppitsch goes ahead for his importance during the Lions' three-peat. - Mitch Cleary

Justin Leppitsch (centre) celebrates the third of his three flags. Picture: AFL Photos


Kade Simpson (326 games from 2003-2020)

The reliable head in Carlton's backline throughout much of this century, Simpson actually started his career as a small forward before finding his feet as a dashing half-back. His durability and consistency, which saw him average more than 20 disposals per game for 12 straight seasons, has resulted in him moving to third in the club's all-time games record list. He won Carlton's best and fairest in 2013, while he became one of the most respected modern Blues players for his brave and unwavering approach despite his slender frame. - Riley Beveridge

00:41 Mins
Published on

Game changers: Kade Simpson

Watch the highlights reel of the Blues star

Published on


James Clement (146 games from 2001-2007)

It might be a controversial choice, given his Collingwood career was far shorter than players like Simon Prestigiacomo, Nick Maxwell and Heath Shaw and included no premierships. However, Clement's honour roll stacks up. He was a two-time club best and fairest winner and a dual All-Australian in 2004 and 2005, while Magpies legend Mick Malthouse describes him as one of the best players he ever coached. Clement virtually redefined how the sweeping half-back would play in modern footy and deserves to go down as one of the club's best as a result. - Riley Beveridge


Dustin Fletcher (272 games from 2000-2015)

Fletcher's quality can perhaps best be summed up by the fact he won the Bombers' best and fairest in 2000 in the most dominant premiership team in history. His durability and smarts saw him continue to be a key player for the club until midway through the last decade, having become the third player in history to reach the magical 400-game milestone. Forget the rhetoric that Fletcher didn't play on the best forwards – he did, and he was also one of the first key backs to use his penetrating kicking and ability to read the play to zone off his man and help teammates. He retired at the end of 2015 aged 40, and was then one of 34 Bombers suspended for anti-doping breaches. - Callum Twomey

00:47 Mins
Published on

Fletcher's outrageous drop punt

Dustin Fletcher kicks a massive goal from miles out

Published on


Luke McPharlin (244 games from 2002-2015) 

The key defender joined the Dockers after just 12 games at the Hawks, where he was a top-10 draft pick. Injuries plagued McPharlin at the beginning and tail-end of his career, but when he was on the park, there was no better stopper of the opposition's best forward. He was named an All-Australian in 2012 and was integral to leading the club to its first Grand Final a year later. His ability to swing forward was also a massive asset and Freo fans loved his Mark of the Year against the Eagles in 2005. - Chris Correia

01:26 Mins
Published on

McPharlin v Buddy

Veteran Luke McPharlin got the better of Lance Franklin in an entertaining sideshow

Published on

Geelong Cats

Matthew Scarlett (278 games from 2000-2013)

Single-handedly changed how a full-back played the game. Scarlett would beat his man and then be involved in attacking surges, a cornerstone to the Cats' triple premiership success. A six-time All-Australian, Scarlett was rated by Matthew Lloyd as his toughest opponent. Not bad kudos. Scarlett's teammate and close friend Corey Enright also nabbed six All-Australian blazers and would be a standout choice in most of club's options with his poise and class across half-back. - Mitch Cleary

03:48 Mins
Published on

Hall of Fame: Matthew Scarlett

The Cats defender redefined the art of playing full-back

Published on

Gold Coast Suns

Jarrod Harbrow (175 games from 2011-current)

The former Bulldog joined the start-up Suns for their entry into the AFL and has played the most games for the club. He has been a trusty and reliable small defender throughout his career, using his classy kicking and rebound skills to help set up from the back half. The 31-year-old won Gold Coast's best and fairest in 2018, and was runner up in 2016. He had another terrific season in 2019, leading the inexperienced backline with an average of 18 disposals and providing plenty of drive to finish fourth in their best and fairest. Former co-captain Steven May was another option here. - Callum Twomey

00:00 Mins
Published on

How about that from Harbrow

Jarrod Harbrow kicks a great snap goal in traffic

Published on

GWS Giants

Phil Davis (149 games from 2012-current)

The former co-captain of the Giants walked out on Adelaide after just 18 games and two seasons in 2011 to take up a lucrative deal with the fledgling Giants. A GWS original, Davis has been a crucial and reliable defender for the club throughout its history. He overcame a fitness test in the pre-match of last year's Grand Final to line up against the Tigers, but battled while carrying injury in the thrashing defeat. Davis shared the captaincy of the Giants from the start with Callan Ward until last season, when Stephen Coniglio took the reins. - Callum Twomey

15:20 Mins
Published on

Toe to toe with Damo: Davis on his GF injury, emotional toll, criticism

Phil Davis sits down with Damian Barrett to discuss the fallout from the Grand Final loss, relinquishing the captaincy, and more

Published on


Josh Gibson (160 games from 2010-2017)

Gibson played a specific role as the 'third man in' down back in the Hawks' golden era, including the flag three-peat from 2013 to 2015. Other defenders spent more time in lockdown roles but the ex-Roo was so highly valued internally that he won the Peter Crimmins Medal in 2013 and 2015. Gibson was also an All-Australian in the second of those seasons. Grant Birchall (four premierships, All-Australian in 2012), Brian Lake (three flags, 2013 Norm Smith medallist), James Frawley (one premiership) and Ben Stratton (three flags) were also considered. - Marc McGowan

00:00 Mins
Published on

Gibson kicks his first goal as a Hawk

Hawthorn defender Josh Gibson caps off a brilliant game with his first goal in brown and gold

Published on


James Frawley (139 games from 2007-2014)

It's easy to forget what a pillar Frawley was in defence for the Demons before his free agency move to Hawthorn, where he became a premiership player. He played in only 34 wins at Melbourne but was never an easy beat and his combination of strength and speed off the mark made him versatile enough to man various types. Was an All-Australian in 2010. Another contender was Neville Jetta, who's transformed into one of the AFL's most dependable small backmen. Unfashionable but effective defenders Anthony Ingerson and Alastair Nicholson were integral in the Dees' 2000 Grand Final side. - Marc McGowan

00:32 Mins
Published on

Game changers: James Frawley

Watch the highlights reel of the star Demon

Published on

North Melbourne

Glenn Archer (149 games from 2000-2007)

This was a really tough one – and could have been Scott Thompson instead. Archer was enormous in the Roos winning two flags in the 1990s but also picked up his third All-Australian nod in 2002 and four of his six AFLPA most courageous awards were from this century. Played well above his height of 182cm, was rarely beaten and will be remembered as one of the toughest players of all time. Thompson played 241 matches, was an All-Australian in 2013 and did everything possible to stop his opponents. Robbie Tarrant, Michael Firrito and Mick Martyn were other notables. - Marc McGowan

03:30 Mins
Published on

Fantastic Five: Glenn Archer's best moments

Voted the 'Shinboner of the Century' to pay homage to his gritty determination and courageous playing style, Glenn Archer earned the respect of the football world and was an important cog in the Kangaroos' feared side during many dominant seasons

Published on

Chad Cornes (233 games from 2000-2011)

The versatility of Cornes meant he was actually named All-Australian as a wingman in 2007, but he perhaps played his best footy as a key defender. Making the switch ahead of the club's premiership season in 2004, Cornes was a key factor behind its flag push and its maiden successful season in the AFL. He was named All-Australian at centre-half back, finished third in the Brownlow Medal and held superstar key-forward Jonathan Brown to just 13 disposals and one behind in the Grand Final. - Riley Beveridge

Kane and Chad Cornes with the 2004 premiership cup. Picture: AFL Photos


Alex Rance (200 games from 2008-2019)

Not only is Alex Rance easily Richmond's best defender of the past 20 years, but he is comfortably in the mix for the best full-back of the modern era. He is a five-time All-Australian, including one as captain, a best a fairest winner and played an integral part in the Tigers' 2017 premiership triumph. An ACL injury in round one of 2019 robbed him of a second flag. Looked on track to return to his best, but shocked the football world by retiring in December that year. - Ben Sutton

06:08 Mins
Published on

Rance v Lance: The epic battles between superstars

Following the news of Alex Rance's retirement, here are the standout moments in his colossal rivalry with Lance Franklin

Published on

St Kilda

Sam Fisher (228 games from 2004-2016) 

Any player that won two best and fairests in an era that included Nick Riewoldt, Lenny Hayes and Brendon Goddard could seriously play. Standing at 191cm, Fisher could tackle the opposition's power forward but also generate attacks from defence. Along with Sean Dempster (2012), Brendon Goddard (2010) and Austinn Jones (2004), Fisher (2008) had been the only other Saints defender named an All-Australian since the turn of the century. Goddard was left out of consideration due to his work in attack and in the midfield. - Mitch Cleary

00:37 Mins
Published on

Toyota Fixture Throwback: Frenzy footy and Fisher goes bang

St Kilda defender Sam Fisher makes it five goals to nothing in the first quarter

Published on

Sydney Swans

Ted Richards (228 games from 2006-2016)

There were so many worthy candidates, given the Swans were outstanding defensively for much of this century. Richards won by a nose, from 2005 premiership players and dual All-Australians Leo Barry and Craig Bolton. Dane Rampe, Nick Smith and even Heath Grundy also had claims. However, Richards was a leviathan for Sydney, playing in 228 games and three Grand Finals, including the 2012 premiership. He was the All-Australian centre half-back in 2012, almost always took the biggest and best forward – despite being only 192cm – and was a much-loved teammate. - Marc McGowan

00:00 Mins
Published on

Teddy turns back the clock

Veteran Swan Ted Richards has a day out against the Eagles with a best on ground performance

Published on

West Coast Eagles

Jeremy McGovern (127 games from 2014-current)

With four All-Australians apiece, it was down to McGovern and skipper Darren Glass. Given McGovern's career trajectory and his immediate impact on the Eagles, he got the nod marginally. Glass was renowned as one of the best stoppers of his generation, while McGovern will not only beat sides in the air, he will then launch attacking moves himself. Two-time All-Australian Shannon Hurn was in the conversation, while Glen Jakovich was overlooked given his best work came in the previous century. - Mitch Cleary

02:25 Mins
Published on

From the players' mouths: Gov, Ryan, Vardy, Sheed talk about THAT play

Taken from 'Raw Emotion: Inside the Eagles and Pies Grand Final'

Published on

Western Bulldogs

Dale Morris (253 games from 2005-2019)

The 2016 finals series, which Morris played through with a fractured vertebra, tells you enough about the tenacity and toughness of the highly respected Western Bulldogs defender. An All-Australian in 2008, it was his role in the club's drought-breaking flag success that defined Morris' career. Such was his importance in that premiership side, he finished second in the club's best and fairest in that particular season. He narrowly edges former skipper Robert Murphy as the club's best defender this century. - Riley Beveridge

00:00 Mins
Published on

Dale is 100 per cent dependable

Bulldog stalwart Dale Morris had another standout game featuring flawless disposal efficiency

Published on