It’s time we introduced ourselves to a new full back called Alex.
For so long Alex Rance has held the crown of the best full back in the game, albeit it with no small amount of debate, but with him sitting on the sidelines with a torn ACL, a new and improved Alex has come along: this time making his way from Tasmania to Fremantle, with the last name Pearce.
For so long Fremantle have been looking for a replacement for their greatest ever player, Matthew Pavlich, but it hasn’t necessarily been Pav’s retirement that led their downfall, and created the need for a rebuild.
As great as Pavlich was for Fremantle, and as dominant as his presence was, there was a more unheralded general down back who was the lynchpin to Fremantle’s relative success in the early 2010s.
After all, Pav was still there in 2016 when they dramatically fell from minor premiers to 16th. It was another All-Australian by the name of Luke McPharlin who left a gaping hole in the defence with his 2015 retirement, and with his departure, the hopes of the Dockers nosedived.
For so long, McPharlin controlled the last line of the Docker defence. Without him, Fremantle lost Michael Johnson’s freedom to intercept and had to rely on Zac Dawson to take responsibility for the opponent’s number one forward. While they were looking for a forward to save them, it was a leader down back that they needed.
Alex Pearce was recruited to Fremantle with pick 37 in the 2013 draft. He made an instant impact down back after his debut in 2015. His 200cm frame, mixed with speed, tenacity and strong marking ability demonstrated instantly that he would be a long term star of the Fremantle Football Club and the AFL in general. The dye was cast and the scene was set for Alex Pearce to catapult Freo back up the ladder.
Unfortunately for him, and for Freo, injuries don’t adhere to scripts too well, and his career was interrupted by two broken legs. He spent 672 days on the sidelines, but during that time he lost none of his desire or ability.
As he reaches only his 50th game on the weekend, it’s deserved that he should be spoken about with potential All-Australian credentials. He has yet to be beaten in defence in 2019, and averages only 0.8 one-on one-losses per game. His ability to intercept (up to over seven intercept possessions a game) has been a large feature, but what really sets him apart is his attack on the contest. It would be near impossible to find a player as tall as Pearce who can collect a ground ball as cleanly. He runs through the opposition tackles with the strength and speed of any midfielder, and he has adapted a fun little party trick of handballing to himself to get out of trouble.
In combination with Hamling and another young star in Luke Ryan, Pearce has managed to keep Fremantle’s average score against to a miserly 67 points, which (believe it or not) is the lowest for any Ross Lyon team. Their quality in defence was highlighted against Adelaide on the weekend where Pearce took Tex Walker completely out of the game.
There was one shot of Pearce standing shoulder to shoulder with his opponent, and it rammed home just what a special player Pearce is, and could be. Already more agile than walker, Pearce towered over the Adelaide co-captain, leaving him looking like a man out-sized, and beaten for agility as well.
Although Adelaide had much of the momentum all game, they only managed 51 points, with three goals coming late and two goals coming from undisciplined 50 metre penalties. The ball movement out of the backline has, in several occurrences, seen an increase in Fremantle’s scoring capacity. They are now able to get the ball to a functional forward line faster than oppositions can set up, something Fremantle hasn’t seen since McPharlin was playing.
Already in the leadership group, and with an AA on the way, it’s fair to say Fremantle have found an absolute gem in Alex Pearce and the fans are excited. At only 23, yet seemingly having been around forever, Pearce is the centrepiece of a Ross Lyon defensive unit that will test even the best forward structures the game has to offer.
Alex Pearce could have been a player many looked at as a “could’ve been”. Those broken legs would have sent a lesser man into early retirement, or at least had list managers questioning as to whether he deserved a spot on the list – what a mistake it would’ve been to entertain that idea.
Six years after being drafted, Alex Pearce will reach the 50 game milestone. A forgotten man in many circles until last season, he is now averaging career-best numbers, and is blanketing the opposition. When you see Ross Lyon smiling in the coach’s box – and I mean genuinely smiling – it is more often than not due to the efforts of his full back. Lyon loves defence. He loves a team that will completely shut down the opposition’s main avenue to goal and force them to do that which they do not want. In Pearce, Lyon has a man that not only shuts down that first option, but the next couple as well.
While he has a long way to go to match the career of the perennial All-Australian full back, Rance, Pearce has made the steps necessary to put himself in the frame as the heir apparent.
And he’ll have many more than his first 50 games to prove that to the rest of the AFL.
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