Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir believes Alex Pearce has ‘room to grow’ after holding Ben King goalless

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Eliza ReillyThe West Australian
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Alex Pearce made a successful return to the AFL this weekend.
Camera IconAlex Pearce made a successful return to the AFL this weekend. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian

He’s missed more games through injury than he’s played, but Alex Pearce could prove Fremantle’s defensive ace in the second half of the season with senior coach Justin Longmuir declaring the key defender has “plenty of growth” left in him.

Pitted against rising star Ben King, who entered the contest placed fifth overall in the Coleman medal race, Pearce was one of Fremantle’s best in the Dockers win over the Gold Coast.

For the first time this season, King was held goalless as Pearce used his maturity and strength to win the bulk of the pair’s one-on-one contests – finishing with seven intercept possessions himself.

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Bar round four against Carlton where he finished with one goal, King has kicked multiple in each of his 12 games and was coming off a four-goal bag against Hawthorn.

After missing the entire 2020 season with an ankle injury, Pearce returned in round one this season as a makeshift key forward only for a “freak accident” to rule him out until now.

AFL. Fremantle v Gold Coast Suns at Optus Stadium in Perth. Pictured - Alex Pearce of Fremantle.
Camera IconAFL. Fremantle v Gold Coast Suns at Optus Stadium in Perth. Pictured - Alex Pearce of Fremantle. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian, - Justin Benson-Cooper / The West Australian Justin Benson-Cooper

The image of Pearce in tears in the change rooms pierced the hearts of even the most hardened football fans.

But all the suffering was forgotten when the 26-year-old played a starring role in Fremantle’s 27-point win.

“Where do you start,” Longmuir said.

“He’s probably been in some dark places with his injuries but he never shows it around the club. He’s always upbeat and doing whatever he can to get himself right.

“I was expecting a little bit of rustiness today considering it was his first AFL game back as a full back in a while but he hit the ground running.

“Some of the contests he won and the physical pressure he put on King, I thought he was a rock down there for us.

“He’s a leader of our club. He hasn’t been able to do that on the field but now he has the chance and he just stands up for us.

“I would imagine that he’s still got plenty of growth in him. It’s his first game back as a full back in probably two years so he’s going to build on what he did today.

“I’m really proud of him.”

Gold Coast coach Stuart Dew wasn’t as glowing in his assessment of the battle, believing his side “made it easy” for Pearce to defend.

“It was a disappointing of a game for us for the year,” Dew said.

“We didn’t kick it advantage side enough. We’ve got some guys who have had long-term injuries so as an industry, it’s good to see guys coming back who’ve missed a lot of football but we made it easy for a guy who’s missed a lot of football today.

“He kept working hard. He’ll be disappointed but he’ll be more disappointed with the way the whole team played.”

Regardless, Pearce’s remarkable comeback narrative ensured it wasn’t a dour day for the Dockers as both sides struggled to stamp momentum in the first half.

But Longmuir said it was satisfying to buck two distinct Dockers trends – getting through a game unscathed by injury and kicking more goals than points.

AFL. Fremantle v Gold Coast Suns at Optus Stadium in Perth. Pictured - James Aish of Fremantle.
Camera IconAFL. Fremantle v Gold Coast Suns at Optus Stadium in Perth. Pictured - James Aish of Fremantle. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian, - Justin Benson-Cooper / The West Australian Justin Benson-Cooper

“In the second quarter, we got a bit cute with our ball movement in our back half,” Longmuir said.

“We tried to force our ball movement in the front half.

“I was really proud of the way we bounced back.

“Liam and Lobby kicked those two straight goals and really took their opportunity away from them.

“It’s good not to use the medical sub. It’s good to head into the bye without any more injuries.”

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