Fremantle hope the best is still ahead for Harley Bennell after re-signing the injury-plagued midfielder for another AFL season.
The Dockers handed Bennell and goalsneak Hayden Ballantyne one-year contract extensions on Friday, a day after veteran David Mundy was re-signed for 2019.
Veteran ruckman Aaron Sandilands is also expected to sign a new one-year contract extension, but Michael Johnson and Danyle Pearce will retire at season’s end.
Ongoing calf issues have restricted Bennell to just two AFL games in his three seasons at Fremantle.
But there have been some more encouraging signs this year, with Bennell notching 10 WAFL games after working with a specialist ballet physiotherapist to improve his calf muscles.
Re-signing Bennell comes with risks – both on and off the field.
But Dockers chief executive Steve Rosich feels Bennell, who produced some scintillating displays for the Gold Coast Suns earlier in his career, deserves another year to prove his worth.
“Despite going through some tough periods with injury, Harley has continually kept his head up and worked extremely hard at getting back on the football field,” Rosich said.
“We’ve seen Harley play 10 games in the WAFL this season and we have every hope he can return and play his best football in a Fremantle jumper.”
Bennell thanked Ross Lyon for his ongoing support, describing the veteran coach as like a father figure.
But Lyon has warned Bennell that 2019 will be a make-or-break season for him.
Bennell feels he has made some significant progress this year with the help of the ballet physiotherapist.
Collingwood’s Ben Reid did the same thing in 2015, turning to ballet conditioning expert Paula Baird Colt to try to heal his own soft-tissue problems.
“Our physio Jeff Boyle and I sat down with the ballet teacher and we just started working more on the footwork and the muscles in my foot that contract with the calf muscles as well,” Bennell said.
“We were doing that once a week with her and it’s really helped my top-end sprints.”
Bennell is set to return from his latest calf setback in Peel Thunder’s clash with Claremont on Saturday.
Ballantyne has kicked 17 goals in 15 games this season, and his leadership is viewed as invaluable in a Fremantle outfit that is in the middle of a big rebuild.
Fremantle will be aiming to notch their ninth win of the season when they take on Geelong at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday.