Bennell experiment ends at Freo as questions remain over why it failed

“I firmly believe that I am capable of getting back out there and playing at the highest level.”

Bennell was given a one-year extension in August 2018 by Fremantle prior to club legend Peter Bell taking over as football general manager. The decision last week to end their relationship took the talented player and his manager Colin Young by surprise.

It would be ridiculous for a club to pick him up having played just two games in two years.

Colin Young

It triggered the pair to seek an official release from his Dockers contract this week to focus on opportunities for next year.

Young said last week he would be meeting with Fremantle in coming days and discussing our options.

Bennell’s latest calf injury while playing in the WAFL last month was to sideline him for three months and came on the cusp of returning to the Dockers lineup.

Fremantle famously sent Bennell to Germany in his first year with the club to consult with world-renowned soft-tissue expert Dr Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt for his problematic calf tears.

He appeared destined for greatness after bursting onto the scene with his pace, skill and flair for Gold Coast in 2011, playing 81 games and booting 92 goals in five seasons.

But the Suns got tired of Bennell’s off-field indiscretions and lingering injury issues and were content to trade him to the Dockers at the end of 2015.

The Dockers were in a similar boat at the end of last year when Bell took over as football manager and the club legend tried to move Bennell on during the trade period.

In an interview with SEN Radio during that time, Young told hosts Garry Lyon and Tim Watson that it would be “ridiculous” for another club to trade in Bennell after playing only two games in two years.

“We did have a conversation with the club about seven or eight weeks out about where he sat,” Young told SEN.

“We weren’t too sure if the way he was being rehabbed was the correct procedure, so there was some questions asked and hopefully his new training regime will be good for him.”

Colin Young

“He’s definitely required, there was no talks and even if there was talks, it would be ridiculous for a club to pick him up having played just two games in two years.”

Young also cast doubts over Fremantle’s management of his client’s issues, indicating discussions had taken place between the two parties about Bennell’s rehabilitation at the club.

“Unfortunately this year he didn’t play much footy … whether that was due to the way they tried to rehab him back into playing,” Young said at the time.

“He played an average of 17 games in five years on the Gold Coast.

“We weren’t too sure if the way he was being rehabbed was the correct procedure, so there was some questions asked and hopefully this pre-season his new training regime will be good for him.”

Suns coach Rodney Eade said Bennell was among the most talented yet most ill-disciplined players, from a training perspective, he has seen. Credit:AAP

When Bennell had his contract extended last August, Lyon said: “We’ve invested so much, he’s carried himself well … we need to find a solution.

“Clearly, it’s his last chance. If we can’t get him up … make no doubt if we delisted Harley, another club would pick him up. I know that for a fact.”

The Pinjarra-born Bennell managed two games with Fremantle towards the end of 2017 between a horror run of injuries as the Dockers tried everything in their power to get him right.

Besides numerous rehabilitation programs and the trip to Germany, the club also employed a physiotherapist that specialised in ballet in an attempt to strengthen his calves, but each time his training regime increased to levels required to play AFL, he would break down again.

Bennell looked to be on track for an AFL return after a series of strong displays in the WAFL this year but when his calf popped during a game last month, it signalled the end for him at Fremantle, who traded picks 16 and 35 for Bennell and pick 22.

Taken with pick two in then 2010 national draft by the Suns, Bennell played 81 games on the Gold Coast before being traded to the Dockers along with pick 22 for picks 16 and 35.

He initially arrived on a three-year deal, but has played just twice since at AFL level.

Whilst Bennell had plenty of highlights, perhaps his most notable game was a 2014 game against Geelong.

He had 27 disposals and kicked six goals as the Suns smashed the Cats by 40 points.

Later in the year he received three Brownlow votes, while teammate Gary Ablett was given two for his 33 disposal and one goal game.

“The club, Harley and his management have mutually agreed on a deed of settlement to release Harley from his AFL playing contract for 2019,” Bell said in a statement.

“It’s been an incredibly frustrating and disappointing period for Harley and the club trying to get his body right to play.

“Harley’s resilience and determination to overcome numerous setbacks has been amazing and a pointer to why he has indicated to the club that he wants to seek an opportunity elsewhere to play at the elite level.

“We believe we have done everything we possibly could as a club to support Harley. On behalf of everyone at Fremantle, we wish Harley and his family all the very best for the future and he will always be welcome here at the club.”

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