Harley Reid has taken the fend-off to a new level in the first nine games of his career. Pictures: AFL Photos

HARLEY Reid used to practice it with medicine balls in the gym. He would pick one of the weighted basketball-sized balls, place it in his hand, bring his arm back and then launch it.

"I start side on and then come through like that," Reid told AFL.com.au last year, motioning as the ball would be shot-put across the gym. "Then you do both sides."

It, of course, is the Reid signature move: the effective fend-off (EFO). It is rare a player's weapon is well established years before he has even been drafted but Reid, as he is showing now with West Coast, is the rarest of talents. 

In his opinion, the fend-off power comes from the forearm, which saw him work on building his strength in that area. His background dabbling in jiu jitsu hasn't hurt, either. 

"You have to go with the palm. You can't be out here," he said, extending his arm and then attempting to discard an imaginary opponent. "You need to have that leverage to push off."

This is the anatomy of the fend-off, one of footy's most thrilling moments but perfected by a select few. The move, says AFL historian Col Hutchinson, has forever been a part of the game. 


"My memory goes back to the 1950s but I've seen many great players be good at it … Sergio Silvagni, Ron Barrassi, John Devine. Leigh Matthews was pretty good at it, too," Hutchinson said. "But Harley is doing a pretty special job of it as well."

Reid's superstar double EFO against Melbourne on Sunday has brought the brilliant action back into the spotlight. First, he used his left hand to shove Clayton Oliver and then a right-handed disposing of Christian Petracca, all while flicking the ball from one hand to the other. Combining the pair's wages, it was a $2 million fend-off.   


Two weeks earlier, he had done the double against Essendon, with Ben Hobbs and Zach Merrett, one of the game's best tacklers, swatted away by Reid. Against Fremantle, he shoved dual Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe over when the pair were running next to each other. 

In round five, he planted a hand on Dustin Martin, in a symbolic baton-passing of the fend-off mantle. That time, Reid said he had started the fend-off before he realised it was Martin. He ran off the ground, smirked at captain Liam Duggan and said: "I did it". Reid doesn't punch down, he palms up – the higher the profile, the bigger the challenge. 

The 19-year-old can't remember when he turned on fending-off, but it has been a part of his game throughout his junior career. Last year, there were times he went looking for fend-offs to inject some extra fun into the contest. One went awry – a rare UFO sighting ('uneffective' fend-off) late in the season that saw him trapped in a tackle and injure his knee.  

Harley Reid fends off Ben Miller during the round five match between West Coast and Richmond at Optus Stadium, April 14, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Champion Data started recording its broken tackles statistic in 2011. The year before, Martin made his debut for Richmond. Since then, Martin leads the AFL in broken tackles with 374. The next most is Jack Viney with 205. In nine games, Reid has 29 to his name, already placing him in the top 300 players ever recorded. 

Martin came to redefine the fend-off as Dusty's 'Don't Argue', rising to prominence in 2017 when he had 83 at 3.3 a game in Richmond's magical premiership run. However, 68 came in the home and away season (at an average of 3.1). 

Reid is averaging 3.2 broken tackles this year, ahead of Sydney's Chad Warner (25), and Hawks pair Jai Newcombe and James Worpel, and Kangaroo Luke Davies-Uniacke, all with 15 each. Fremantle's Matthew Johnson and Adelaide's Jake Soligo are both up to 14, with Cam Rayner at 13 and Isaac Heeney at 12. Jordan De Goey and Jason Horne-Francis round out the top rungs with 11 each so far.

Port Adelaide's star Horne-Francis said the perfect fend-off comes when they don't see it coming.  

"It definitely comes naturally for me. The biggest trick is getting the timing right when they're not expecting it," he told AFL.com.au. "That's a big part of it. If people get me, it's when you're not expecting it." 

The EFO is not just good for highlights reels. In a game so defensively structured, an effective stiff-arm can break open space that opponents had counted upon being guarded. 

"If there's no second layer of pressure coming, then you can be in the clear very quickly," said one coach. "It can create room when there was none."

Jason Horne-Francis fends off Darcy Cameron during Port Adelaide's clash against Collingwood in round two, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

What does it take to be an EFO king? Balance, strength, power, pace, composure and timing all play their part. But there's one element that is ultra-necessary, and maybe the hardest to develop. 

"It's confidence," said one coach. "Harley Reid doesn't believe he can get tackled. Neither does Chad Warner and neither has Dustin Martin. They know they're getting through. It's like, 'You're in my way, get out of it'."

The fend-off isn't just catching on. But it is taking off. As Reid's career blasts off, a focus will be on the manoeuvre that could easily be renamed with another two-word phrase beginning with F and followed by off. A new generation of fenders is busting through, with the Eagles' No.9 the face (or forearm) of the movement. Try and stop them.