Harley Bennell took a significant step towards a Melbourne debut on Wednesday when he shone in the club’s first full-contact session since AFL training restrictions were eased.
Bennell managed just two games in four seasons at Fremantle and has been plagued by ongoing calf issues in recent years, including minor setbacks since the Demons handed him a career lifeline over pre-season.
But the 27-year-old impressed his new teammates with a sharp display at Casey Fields, showcasing his trademark smooth movement and ball use throughout a brutal three-hour training session.
The next two weeks will be important for Bennell if he is to press his case for selection in the round-two meeting with Carlton on June 13.
“We’re pretty excited about him,” Melbourne midfielder Nathan Jones told reporters after the session.
“He’s still got a fair way to go. It’s his first main session in a pretty long time and he’s got to tick a fair few boxes, but today was a big step forward for him.”
Jones said Bennell now had to build consistency in his training and workload.
“You’ve got to look at it from a wider perspective,” Jones said.
“He’s missed a lot of footy and he’s got to put together a big block of training to ensure that he can last the distance.
“He is a long-term prospect, but the way he is going he’s going to be pushing for selection, if not round two then hopefully at some point this season.”
As with fringe players around the league, Bennell faces some obstacles to break into the Melbourne side.
AFL-listed players cannot play in second-tier competitions this year and will therefore need to rely on training sessions as a springboard back to senior level.
Bennell has played a total of 83 AFL matches with Gold Coast and Fremantle, but none since 2017.
He joined the Demons in February as a pre-season supplementary selection.