The West

Eagles hand Bennell a lifeline
Eagles hand Bennell a lifeline

Jamie Bennell's resurrection from the football scrapheap could be completed on Sunday after he was a stunning inclusion in West Coast's round-one team to play the Western Bulldogs at Patersons Stadium.

Bennell's career seemed doomed when he was de-listed by Melbourne after the 2012 season while nursing a wrecked knee.

But he was given a rookie draft lifeline by the Eagles and good form in the second half of 2013 at Swan Districts, followed by a strong pre-season under new West Coast coach Adam Simpson, has him on the verge of adding to the 57 games he played with Melbourne from 2009 to 2012.

The Eagles team to face the Bulldogs had a hint of intrigue about it. Nic Naitanui was named on a seven-man bench, along with fellow ruckmen Scott Lycett and Callum Sinclair, who was promoted on to West Coast's primary list yesterday.

Recruit Elliot Yeo, defender Brad Sheppard, first-round draft pick Dom Sheed and forward Josh Hill complete the bench.

Bennell was named in a back pocket and 2008 Hawthorn premiership player Xavier Ellis was named on a half-back flank.

The Eagles could have as few as two or as many as four players feature in their first games for the club depending on how the bench is cut today.

The Bulldogs left star midfielder Ryan Griffen out of their team. Griffen has been battling back soreness in the run into the season.

Naitanui's placement on the bench and the naming of extra ruckmen raises questions over whether he will play as a forward rather than in the ruck, or whether he will play at all, although Eagles assistant Justin Longmuir was confident about his fitness mid-week. Yeo has been considered all but certain to play his first game for the Eagles.

Bennell, 23, has been named in the 18 and can be withdrawn from the team only if ill or injured.

His 2013 coach at Swan Districts, Greg Harding, considered an AFL return "long overdue" for Bennell.

"We believed he deserved an opportunity last year but that didn't happen," Harding said.

"It just didn't eventuate for whatever reason but he is a skilful player and he is so footy smart as well. It is great to hear he is going to get a chance this year."

Harding said Bennell had to start in the WAFL reserves after returning injured from the Demons, but the Swans hierarchy had quickly worked out that he had lost none of his trademark speed when he returned to their senior team.

"Athletically he is so gifted," Harding said. "His top-end speed is freakish.

"I remember his first game last year where it was really dewy and I was thinking, gee how is he going to go with his knee. I was just so stoked for him to see that he hadn't lost any of that lateral movement or that straight-line speed even in his first game.

"It was against Subiaco at Medibank Stadium when Medibank was really shifting on the surface and his ability to handle that, on his knee - I was just so happy for him."

" … he is so footy smart … It is great to hear he is going to get a chance this year.""Swan Districts coach *Greg Harding *on Jamie Bennell

The West Australian

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