THEY are the pillars of Fremantle's miserly backline, and Luke Ryan believes teammates Alex Pearce and Joel Hamling deserve to be rated up there with the AFL's best key defensive duos after their "pretty special" form this season.

The Dockers have been the surprise packets of 2019 so far, and their fifth placing on the ladder is owed largely to a tightened defensive unit.

Freo ranks second for fewest points conceded (457), only narrowly behind Geelong (455), and both Pearce and Hamling have been mentioned in early All Australian conversations.

WHO MAKES FINALS? Do the 2019 Ladder Predictor

In the past two rounds, the duo have conceded only one goal between them to a direct opponent.

In round six, Hamling completely shut out emerging Bulldogs star Aaron Naughton, forcing him to head back to defence after half-time.

And last Sunday, Pearce blanketed in-form Crows skipper Taylor Walker, holding him to one first-quarter goal in a dour Adelaide Oval slog.

"I'd say it is (the best key defensive combination), just because they're my teammates," Ryan said.

"It's a pretty good combo, they're both young, haven't played that many games as of yet, to see what they're doing now is pretty special.

"The way they're playing at the moment, it's pretty hard to get past them.

"Joel and Alex have been playing super this year, to keep them out on the field and them playing the way they are is going to be good for us in the long term."

Ross Lyon has masterminded the Dockers' return to being one of the toughest teams to break down this season.

Freo ranked bottom five for points against in the past three seasons during the painful years of the club's rebuild, but is back defending the ground as a unit. 

During the first four years of his tenure, Fremantle was either the best or second-best team at restricting scores.

Freo played finals in each of those seasons and reached its maiden Grand Final in 2013.

The Dockers have a long way to go before September action becomes a reality this year, but Ryan – a bargain pick 66 from Coburg in the 2016 NAB AFL Draft – felt like he got a taste of finals footy in an exhausting 51-34 loss to the Crows.

"It was a bit weird, no goals going on and there wasn't much of a break," he said.

FREE AGENTS LIST Who is in this year's pool?

"It was just real contested footy and something I've never been a part of, but I really liked it.

"We don't really think about that (making it a grind) too much. If we defend well, hopefully we can move the ball well out of defence and hopefully connect well with the forwards.

"They defended pretty well on the weekend as well, what was it, three or four goals in total up to half-time?

"It was a really defensive game, it was finals-like. It was good."

Find Trends on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify

Ryan, who is averaging 23 disposals and five rebound 50s, conceded it would be tough for match committee to find a spot for Connor Blakely against Richmond this Sunday, despite the young star picking up 31 touches and booting a goal for Peel.

"He's feeling good that he's back, even just training and playing, for how long he's spent out," Ryan said.

"Just to go down and play with the boys, even if it's just a half, Connor is pretty happy to be playing footy."