IT'S UNDERSTANDABLE that Melbourne's midfield is the envy of the NAB AFL Women's competition.
Even without Daisy Pearce (who is shortly due to give birth to twins), prolific ball-winners including new co-captain Elise O'Dea and Karen Paxman are always prominent on the stats sheets and in awards voting.
Another key component of the Demons' on-ball unit is ruck Lauren Pearce, whose influence and importance are never understated by her teammates.
The 184cm Pearce, a basketball convert, has missed only one AFLW game and continues to develop as a mobile ruck with more assets than simply her tap work at centre bounces and stoppages.
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Pearce's versatility shone in last Saturday's win against Collingwood with 20 hit-outs, 16 disposals, three marks, two tackles and a goal.
And the Demons will rely on her to literally get the ball rolling their way from the opening bounce on their first road trip of the season, to Brisbane for Sunday's game against the Lions.
"I've definitely still got things to work on. The step-up from week one to week two was gradual," she said.
Pearce, pictured above in a ruck contest with Sharni Layton, is guarded about the secret to Melbourne's midfield dominance in a group that now includes Lily Mithen to offset the loss of Daisy Pearce this season.
"It (our strategy at stoppages) can be random. One girl might think she has a good position or there's a bit of wind. We don't have a main place to hit the ball to … it's just what we see and what we think is going to work," the ruck ace said.
Obviously, it's nice to give your midfield first touch, but also it's the follow-up to help out teammates. I would like to do more blocking, but the focus is to be aggressive at the ball and not get knocked off it.
"All the girls work on their craft and we have faith in each other to do our jobs. We know our strengths and we play to that. I'm relatively new to the game and they've been playing it for so much longer. So, I'm happy if one of them suggests something.
"I like to get the ball. When you're tapping the ball, you know what direction it's going and that's more reason why you should be able to get there (to the contest).
"In basketball, I liked to get after the ball and I think it's just implementing that style into my football. It's something I have to work on, to switch on straight away."
Mithen said the Demons place a high premium on their tallest player's ability to also win a ground-ball contest, go forward to provide a target or take an intercept mark.
"She's just a great competitor. You just love playing with her because her work is just as good in the air and on the ground. Her follow-up work is second-to-none," Mithen said.
Pearce's development has been remarkable, considering she hadn't touched a football until three years ago and continued to combine the two sports until as late as last year.
She was fortunate to learn the basics of the game with VFLW club Darebin Falcons under the influence of leaders including Melissa Hickey, now at Geelong, Daisy Pearce, O'Dea and Paxman.
"When I first started, completely raw with zero footy skills and knowledge three years ago, I was lucky to have around me a lot of girls who are playing in the AFL now," Pearce said.
"Not only playing with them, but watching the way they prepare and asking questions. They had no qualms about sitting down and discussing things with you. I wouldn't be here if I hadn't had their help."
Pearce won Darebin's best and fairest award last winter and was runner-up in the VFLW best and fairest award and named in the VFLW team of the year, despite playing only 11 of the 16 games.
"I had to choose between the sports because coming into the AFL, you have to put all your spare time into it, otherwise everyone else is going to improve and you're going to stay where you are," she said.
"You can't just rely on coming to training and improving."