Match-winning Sears highlights Peel's local talent

Friday, September 8, 2023 - 10:30 AM by Chris Pike

JACK Sears is still only 21 years of age but already has racked up 59 games with Peel Thunder and his ability to play a variety of roles has made him invaluable, but it was a match winning performance up forward on Saturday that is going to be tough to top.

Sears made his league debut with the Thunder back in 2020 when he was still just 18 years of age, but he has become a regular in the side virtually ever since and that's because of the different roles he is capable of filling.

The majority of Sears' 59 games has seen him play as a defender and that included him having a breakout season in 2022 in the back-line as part of a Peel team that returned to the finals and made it to a first semi-final.

However, he showed back in 2021 that he could be a handy goalkicker too with a couple of three-goal hauls. Now in 2023 he has spent a lot of the season at both ends again but he lined up in attack on Saturday in the qualifying final against Subiaco at Leederville Oval.

What he produced in the second half was a match-winning performance kicking four goals for the first time in his career with all of them coming after half-time including two in the last term, with one of them the go-ahead shot at the 25-minute mark.

His performance was instrumental in Peel beating Subiaco after trailing by 29 points early in the third quarter to now set up a second semi-final clash with East Fremantle this Saturday at Fremantle Community Bank Oval with the winner to advance to the Grand Final.

Match winning performance in a final

Sears might have had 38 games during his career where he won more of the ball than he had in Saturday's qualifying final, but it's unlikely he's ever had a bigger impact from the 10 kicks and three marks he had in the win against the Lions.

He kicked four massive goals in the second half which is the first time he's kicked four goals in a game, and he was just happy to contribute to the win.

"I'd say it probably is the best game I've played, definitely my best game as a forward," Sears told 91.3 SportFM.

"I had a couple of games last year down back that I was pretty happy with, but by far this was my best game as a forward. I was just lucky to hit the scoreboard a couple of times, which is always nice."

All four of Sears' goals came in the second half including the one that put the Thunder back in front at the 25-minute mark which was his fourth of the afternoon.

He just tried to focus on taking his time to steady knowing what was at stake with time running out and Subiaco two points in front, but he was glad to have an experienced teammate like Travis Colyer set him up.

"With that last goal, I just was thinking about focusing on putting it through the big sticks," he said. 

"Obviously I got the ball from Trav Colyer and then found myself in a bit of space which is always nice inside-50. I just took a few steps to steady myself to actually make sure I kicked the goal instead of just chucking it on my boot. That's what was going through my head."

Partnership up forward with another Mandurah local

While a lot of the talk surrounding Peel come finals time surrounds the AFL-listed players out there from Fremantle, the local Thunder players had a significant impact in the win over Subiaco on Saturday.

It wasn’t just Sears with his four goals who was instrumental in the win, but so was his teammate and fellow forward Ben Middleton who kicked two important goals.

Sears is glad to continue to share the journey with a teammate dating right back to when they first started as young teenagers with the Thunder. That helps with chemistry like shown late in the game when he was able to find Middleton in a crucial play late in the game.

"Luckily Ben was standing in the middle of the ground for me to hit. We've played a fair bit of footy together Ben and I, so we have a bit of chemistry I'd say so I kind of knew where he was going to be in that moment," Sears said.

"It's just something that develops naturally because Ben and I started playing footy together in 14s and 15s at Peel, then we played all our colts footy together as forwards and stuff like that. 

"We know how each other plays and where we're going to be on the ground so I think we look out for each other. I was just lucky in that moment that he was standing there and I had somewhere to hit."

On a high after beating Subiaco

Peel was staring down the barrel of a 29-point deficit early in the third quarter on Saturday against Subiaco in the qualifying final, but the Thunder went on to kick six goals in that third quarter before Sears added a fourth of the half to seal the deal in the last term.

That has meant there is a good feeling among the Peel players this week leading into this Saturday's second semi-final with them knowing that they just need to win one more game and the Thunder will be in a first Grand Final since 2017.

"We're feeling good after the win. Obviously it's a lot easier of a pathway to go now after winning on the weekend and it's one more win until the big dance," Sears said.

"I think just in the second half we started playing more of our brand of footy. In the first half we played straight into their hands and they smashed us inside the contest, and our tackle pressure was down which wasn’t really pleasing. 

"So responding to that in the second half and playing our brand of footy to also hit the scoreboard as a team was really helpful. That was the main thing."

Balance right with locals/Fremantle players

Peel had a team featuring 11 WAFL players from the Thunder 11 and AFL-listed players from Fremantle last Saturday in the qualifying final victory against Subiaco.

However, all 11 of those Dockers players played at least seven games during the season with the Thunder and the likes of Nathan Wilson, Travis Colyer, Tom Emmett, Joel Hamling, Hugh Davies and Liam Reidy played at least 13 of the 18 matches.

That means that the chemistry has been built between the Peel and Fremantle players with Sears happy with the mix they've got this finals series with everyone involved focused on attempting to win a premiership.

"I think there's a really good balance in the team at the moment. We've got 11 players from Freo but you almost say 10 with Nathan Wilson being a Peel local so it's always good to keep your spot in the team around this time of the year," Sears said.

"It can be a challenge at times especially for some of the local boys but I'm someone where my versatility has probably helped me keep my spot in the team. I always think I'm the 22nd player selected each week just because I can fill the spot that is missing that week on the team, that's kind of the way I think about it."

While it can be a challenge for the Peel players who miss out on selection come finals time when all Fremantle players who have qualified are available, at the same time Sears is just grateful to be selected and that's why he tries to make himself as versatile as possible.

"The relationship we have with the Freo players is really good. I get a lot of support and learnings from them when I'm out on the ground, and at trainings and even in the pre-season stuff we do," he said.

"I learn a lot from them so it's really good to have the alignment there, and we're in a really place at the moment. We have a good balance in the team and everyone at Freo is really supportive and the Peel boys are really enjoying it.

"Each week we just look at it as 22 Peel players putting on the jersey, and we're playing for Peel and trying to get a win for Peel."

Full buy in by the entire playing group

What Sears has been most impressed by with the way the Peel and Fremantle players have come together when representing the Thunder is how committed to the cause everybody is no matter where they are coming from.

He has no doubt that's why they have been able to now put themselves in a position where they are one win away from a Grand Final berth.

"We have a really good buy in with both our Peel and Freo players. The Freo boys especially have really bought in over the last couple of years since Geoff got here and even at the end of Shep's coaching career," he said.

"It's been really good for them buying in and then all us Peel boys are buying in. There's a lot of belief in the team especially after the weekend and coming back from that margin that we did. 

"Everyone's stepping up whether it's the Freo or local boys, you can look at someone like Blair Bell who really made a difference in that second half. That's been really good as well."


Taking on Sharks with Grand Final spot up for grabs

Sears is now looking forward to Saturday's second semi-final against East Fremantle which will be the first time the two teams have ever played in a final, and also the first meeting at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.

It is a venue that the Thunder have done well at in finals previously as well including winning last year's elimination final that Sears was part of against South Fremantle.

While Sears knows that beating an East Fremantle team that finished two games clear on top of the ladder won't be easy, he's excited at the prospect of winning to book a spot in the Grand Final.

"We know that East Freo is a very experienced team now so their midfield depth is one of their big strengths. They have some really good key forwards and then key backs like Jupp, we know what they can do," Sears said.

"We know they are a really experienced team and they are going to be there for the fight, and we've won one and lost one against them this year. That gives us a little bit of confidence knowing we can beat them and we're just getting ready to play in any conditions, and to prepare for whatever we have to deal with."