Former Richmond Tigers star Alex Rance is reportedly set to make a sensational comeback to the AFL after quitting to commit to his Jehovah’s Witness faith.
The 30-year-old announced his shock retirement last year to focus on his family and religion, only to separate from wife Georgia eight days later.
On the Nine Network’s Footy Classified on Tuesday, AFL insider Caroline Wilson declared a ‘comeback is on the cards’ for Rance, who was plagued by injury before leaving the game.
‘Alex Rance is a multi-tasker. He was able to live a religious life and be the best defender in the competition for a few years,’ Wilson said.
Former Melbourne Demons captain Garry Lyon and Essendon legend Tim Watson also agreed that Rance’s return to the sport is highly likely.
‘He’ll play footy again and probably with Richmond,’ Lyon said on SEN Breakfast.
Watson added: ‘It wouldn’t surprise me if 17 other clubs have inquired about where he’s at and what he’s thinking of doing over the next year or two.’
‘There’s a possibility that he will [come out of retirement]. That door is still open enough for him possibly to come back and play.’
Rance remained an officially listed player with Richmond in 2020 despite his retirement, and had a contract with the Tigers until the end of 2021, so he would not need to nominate for the draft if he returns to the sport, but simply resume with Richmond.
It comes amid rumours Rance was locked in to be this year’s Bachelor before negotiations broke down and former Australian Survivor star Locky Gilbert eventually landed the leading role.
The Richmond premiership favourite shocked the footy world in December when he quit the game.
As questions about his sudden retirement remain unanswered – including the suggestion that his church may have played a role in his decision – Daily Mail Australia takes a look inside the very private world of the man who could have been The Bachelor.
The Tigers defender was quietly going through a marriage breakdown when he announced he was retiring from the AFL in December to focus on his ‘family and faith’.
Rumours swirled at the time that his Jehovah’s Witness church was involved and had forced him to quit, but the religious organisation denied any involvement in the footy star’s decision.
Just days after Rance announced his retirement, it was revealed he had split from his wife Georgia, whom he married in 2012 and who is also a committed believer in the faith.
It appears they may have split months earlier, however.
The pair sold their home in the upmarket Melbourne suburb of Brighton in September 2019, barely a year after moving in.
Rance – a five-time All Australian who was widely regarded as the AFL’s best defender – was about to return to the field after many months of rehabilitation following a knee reconstruction when he suddenly quit.
He had missed most of the 2019 season after rupturing his ACL in round one and was forced to watch on from the sidelines as the Tigers claimed a premiership, having run out of time to return to fitness.
Having completed the gruelling rehab, it made his retirement all the more mysterious.
Just two days before his announcement, teammate Dylan Grimes told afl.com.au Rance was in great shape.
The 2017 Premiership winner had long spoken of his battle to reconcile the conflicting values of a Jehovah’s Witness and the elite sport he played for a living.
In 2018, he admitted he almost quit the sport at the age of 25 – five years before walking away from a $2million contract with the Tigers.
‘I just wanted to spend more time with my family, do more associated with my faith. I felt like being in the spotlight would draw attention to me,’ he told 20Four’s Stack Report at the time.
The 12-year veteran added his physical presence on the field was naturally at odds with his belief system.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do play sport professionally – as demonstrated by tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams.
But Rance’s dilemma was that body contact and the elite competitiveness which comes with footy are frowned upon by the religion’s elders.
‘When I want to talk to people about love and care – which are central parts of being a Jehovah’s Witness – it’s conflicting because [on the field] I’m beating someone up,’ Rance said.
‘I’m trying to beat him, and put myself over him. But when I talk about the leadership side of things, I show that empathy, care and humility… It’s not an easy road to walk when you have this conflict inside you.’
As reported by the So Dramatic! podcast last week, a newly-single Rance had supposedly ‘signed on the dotted line’ to be The Bachelor, but withdrew at the eleventh hour and was replaced by Locky Gilbert.
The podcast host claimed Rance had already been fitted for numerous suits, and some of the ladies had even applied for the show under the impression Rance was the suitor.
On Monday, a Channel 10 spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia the claims were ‘untrue’.
Rance’s management also denied the rumours to The Herald Sun on Tuesday.
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Rance’s reps for comment, but received no response.
Taking into account Rance’s strong faith, it’s likely he would have been skeptical of such a role because his religion strongly discourages close relationships with ‘worldly people’ (as all non-Witnesses are called).
Meanwhile, Gilbert is believed to have pocketed a six-figure sum to be the Bachelor.
An industry insider told Hit FM’s Tom and Olly on Friday that the business owner, 30, would have secured at least $100,000 for the role.
The source, who went by the name Eliza, speculated: ‘It’s probably around the hundred [thousand] mark.’
‘It’s a good amount when you’re a nobody and you’re there for three months and you get to hook-up with people!’