Star Tiger Alex Rance retires from AFL

Premiership winner Alex Rance played 200 AFL games for Richmond and is a five-times All-Australian.
Premiership winner Alex Rance played 200 AFL games for Richmond and is a five-times All-Australian.

It's surprising yet also entirely appropriate that champion Richmond defender Alex Rance retired from the AFL in the same unique way that he played the game at an elite level for over a decade.

Thursday's sudden announcement came from left field, confused some fans, dismayed others, left most wanting more and was made entirely on his own terms.

The five-time All-Australian and devout Jehovah's Witness informed his teammates at Punt Road on Thursday morning he would retire to focus on his faith and his family.

Rance grappled with getting the balance between faith, family and football right over the course of his 200-game career, nearly retiring in 2015.

Having started preparations for his 13th season, the game-changing defender finally decided the demands of the AFL were starting to hurt those other important areas of his life.

"It was really tough because I love those boys, I care about them a lot, but it's now time for me to look after my own happiness and growth," Rance said of breaking the news to his teammates.

"... I guess I didn't really deal with the underlying things in 2015 that were causing me that uncertainty.

"I treated footy like a band-aid or a drug.

"Just keep at it, invest more time and more energy and it did make me feel better but still underneath I felt uneasy.

"I was divided.

"I was split between two worlds but I don't regret a thing because I've learnt so much across the journey and met so many amazing people.

"But I wish I had've been more honest with myself to understand what makes me happy and what I need.

"The main focus of my life (now) is my spiritual growth ... to just devote more time and energy to that."

The 30-year-old departs with two years left on his contract.

The timing of his decision means he will remain on the club's list in 2020, which technically leaves the door ever so slightly ajar for a change of heart in future.

Rance was a key player in the Tigers' breakthrough premiership in 2017, but missed this year's grand final romp over GWS after rupturing an anterior cruciate ligament in round one.

He had been on track to return to senior action in round one, before making the call to retire.

"I wanted to make sure that I got through my knee rehab ... I would have trained almost full training today," he said.

"I didn't want (my retirement) to be because of my knee or because my body was saying 'Enough'.

"I wanted to make a clear choice about what was important to me and make a priority in my life."

The timing of Rance's decision could have been better for the Tigers, who have finalised their list with this year's draft, trade and free agency periods completed.

Although he will remain on their list next year, chief executive Brendon Gale said his highly-lucrative contract "will be amended accordingly".

While disappointed to lose a player and person of Rance's calibre, he leaves with the club's blessing.

"It's a decision that we were disappointed with, but it's a life decision," Gale said.

"For Alex there have always been other priorities other than just football.

"We certainly respect that and certainly supported him through that process hopeful that he may extend his career, but we certainly respect the very strong decision he's arrived at.

"My immediate sentiment is just one of gratitude ... he's been a remarkable player for this football club.

"We're extremely thankful that he's been a Richmond man."

Australian Associated Press