Izak Rankine comes from strong footballing bloodlines.
He shares a relation to Australian Football Hall of Fame inductee and 1993 Brownlow Medalist Gavin Wanganeen and is the first cousin of former Rising Star winner and Port Adelaide and Fremantle player Danyle Pearce.
Pearce’s Mum is the older sister of Rankine’s Mum, with the two families growing up together in South Australia, although Pearce is 14 years Rankine’s senior.
As such, Pearce had already moved to Fremantle by the time Rankine began rising through the junior football ranks, but it was enough to create a strong (friendly) rivalry between Pearce and his Dockers teammates Stephen and Bradley Hill (now at St Kilda).
The Hill’s cousin, Ian ‘Bobby’ Hill, drafted by the GWS Giants at pick No.24 in the 2018 AFL Draft, was also a standout junior.
“During the back end of his years playing state footy and when he was up against ‘Bobby’, we’d always be digging at each other about whose cousin would star and who would play better,” Pearce told aflplayers.com.au following Rankine’s Round 6 Rising Star nomination.
A highly touted junior, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing at the elite level for Rankine.
After being taken with pick No. 3 by Gold Coast in the 2018 AFL Draft with his West Adelaide teammate Jack Lukosius (pick No. 2), Rankine suffered a series of hamstring injuries as he pushed for senior selection.
But, there was never any doubting Rankine’s talent despite his constant setbacks.
“You can just tell he’s capable of doing anything, left or right, at any time – he’s just got that presence about him,” Pearce said.
“It was really unfortunate that he got serious injuries in his first year, but you could just see from watching him as a junior that he had the excitement to match and outdo the players around him.”
Finally, for Rankine and his support network, his opportunity arrived 597 days after being drafted.
Pearce said the Rising Star nomination would act as important validation to continue to inspire Rankine given the injuries he has faced early in his career.
Having won the award in 2006, Pearce knows the importance of these accolades early in your career.
“If there was any doubt at all that he could reach AFL fitness or make it at the standard, he’s blown that right out of the water in just one game,” he said.
In his first game Rankine kicked a game-high three goals (and almost had three others to his name) as well as gathering 12 touches, eight score involvements and laying three tackles.
The performance was so impressive commentators were debating whether it was the best debut game in recent memory.
Rankine’s first goal – an impressive snap from a contest – drew the most praise, but Pearce joked he thought his own goals on debut may have pipped Rankine at the post.
“I’m going to stick to that (Pearce’s goals were better) but he kicked three so he’s definitely got me there.”
Although the Suns couldn’t snag their fourth win of the season, going down to Melbourne 17 points, Suns fans have been left with plenty to be excited about when it comes to the young talent on their list.
Rankine is the Suns’ third Rising Star nomination this season and fourth in the past 18 months.
As Rankine continues to navigate the AFL landscape, Pearce, who played 258 games across 14 years with Port Adelaide and Fremantle, will continue to offer guidance when required but knows that his younger cousin has a strong support network around him.
“He knows the phone is always there, but I’m sure he’ll continue to find his feet quickly and hopefully as a group the Suns can keep building and getting stronger.”
AFL RISING STAR NOMINEES IN 2020
Round 1 — Sam Sturt (Fremantle)
Round 6 — Izak Rankine (Gold Coast Suns)