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The Freo trio flying under the radar

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Expert
5th May, 2019
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Not that I am keeping tabs, but for those wondering, we have gone nearly two months without Alex Rance in the game.

In the season-opener against Carlton, the Tigers’ star fullback ruptured his ACL – an injury that will almost certainly see him miss the entire 2019 season.

Is it just me or does it feel slightly empty without Rance?

He is a true gentleman and superstar of the game and it feels a little strange not seeing him out there in the yellow and black, week in and week out.

One thing that will certainly feel different without Rancey is the All-Australian side.

For five years, Rance has cemented his spot as the AA fullback and in 2017 he was handed the captaincy.

So this year, things will look a little different – and fellow media and footy fans haven’t taken long to start looking for his replacement.

While it’s probably too soon to be discussing the 2019 AA side, it’s encouraging to see so many different defenders enter the frame of discussion.

I want to discuss one that has somehow flown under the radar.

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Fremantle’s Alex Pearce.

Week in, week out he is minimising the effect of some of the league’s biggest names and is barely beaten to the ball.

I saw Pearce play in Round 1 this year, at home against North Melbourne.

Pearce kept Ben Brown to two goals and a behind, rather ordinary by his standards.

Brown also did not take one mark against his opponent and was constantly second to the ball behind Pearce.

For reference, on the weekend Ben Brown took three marks (one contested) and kicked three goals on Carlton’s highly praised Liam Jones before the opening quarter was over.

Pearce is not a player you can typically refer to the stat sheet to find the impact he’s having.

His numbers are modest, which could be one of a number of reasons he’s yet to really capture the attention of those outside WA.

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But the key to his game is he winning the hard ball over his opponent.

Fremantle defender Alex Pearce

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

At the end of Round 7, Pearce is averaging 11.4 disposals a game – 8.7 of those intercept possessions and 7.3 of those contested.

So he’s winning the important contests in the back line and rarely coming off second best.

His numbers aren’t big but they do reflect just how hard he is working down back for the Dockers.

Last week, former Hawthorn premiership player Xavier Ellis spoke highly of the 23-year-old’s start to 2019.

“He’s averaging just 0.8 one-on-one losses in defence across the six games, and has an elite rating for ground ball gets as a key defender, according to AFL Stats Pro,” Ellis said on The Hard Ball Gets AFL Show.

“Alex Pearce is the best defender in the competition. He has not been beaten.”

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You can gauge an even better understanding of his effectiveness by sitting down and watching him play.

The fact that he has been spoken about so little in 2019 leads me to believe few make an effort to do so.

If you watch Pearce from week to week, it’s the effort and one-percenters – he averaged five a game – that truly highlight his worth.

And he’s not alone.

Pearce has exceptional company in fellow defenders Joel Hamling and Luke Ryan.

Every week Fremantle fans have been writing home about Luke Ryan and it is no surprise why.

His exceptional distribution of the ball has been a factor in Fremantle’s ability to walk their way out of trouble in defence.

He’s averaged 23 disposals at an elite 89 per cent efficiency over seven games.

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Ryan has provided trustworthy hands to take the ball out of Fremantle’s defence and shuffle it out to the midfield.

It’s a wonder why few have taken notice.

Fremantle backman Luke Ryan

(Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Ryan himself has been crying out for some attention that he’s gone to the extreme lengths of bleaching his hair.

Similarly to Pearce, he’s also averaging just under nine (8.7) intercept disposals a game.

As for Hamling, the start to his AFL career wasn’t quite smooth sailing, but it appears to be third time lucky at Fremantle.

Alongside Pearce and Ryan, he too has enjoyed a great start to his third season back home in WA.

Hamling is like a general down back. His spoils and one-percenters proving the difference in his game.

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His desperation to get to the ball and make a contest is what makes him such a valued player in the Fremantle line up.

It’s no coincidence Freo have been so hard to score against in the opening seven rounds of the season.

At the start of Round 7, Fremantle averaged just 67.7 points scored against them per game – the lowest it’s ever been under coach Ross Lyon.

Despite a loss to Adelaide on the weekend, they restricted them to 51 points in a game that was won in the midfield.

The defence is working mighty hard to get the job done and have been rarely beaten.

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And this is just the beginning for the Fremantle back line.

The trio have played less than 160 games between them and have a lot more football to go.

If this is a glimpse of Fremantle’s future, then there is plenty to smile about.

So why don’t we talk about it?

If I was to take one guess, it’s that we aren’t paying enough attention to what’s going on in the west.

Supporters may be outraged by the lack of attention and while it is thoroughly deserved, flying under the radar seems to suit this group perfectly.

There are plenty of big talkers around them.

They’re putting their heads down and walking the walk.

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