Simon Goodwin wants to hand Harley Bennell his Melbourne debut when the Demons restart their AFL season against Carlton on Saturday, completing an unlikely comeback story.
The former Sun and Docker has been one of the winners of the season suspension, building strength through his troublesome calves and putting himself in contention for his first top-level game since round 23, 2017.
“It’s very tempting (to pull the trigger) – it’s exciting,” Melbourne coach Goodwin told reporters on Monday.
“We always thought he’d be ready about mid-year and it just happens to be round two.
“He’s done everything right, he’s done a lot of training, obviously in isolation, but more importantly he’s done everything we’ve asked of him in the last three weeks.
“So he’s definitely putting the pressure on and what it will be is it’ll be a fairytale story really for Harley.
“He’s gone through a lot on and off the field, it’s been a long time since he’s played his last game of AFL footy.
“So we’ll work with (fitness boss) Darren Burgess and the medical team to come up with a decision but he’s going to have to be around the mark – he’s very close.”
The Demons threw Bennell a lifeline over pre-season before signing him via February’s supplemental selection period.
Goodwin made it clear he wanted to play Bennell against Carlton but emphasised the need to manage the 27-year-old through the year, given he’d played just two games across his previous four seasons.
Bennell got through Melbourne’s match simulation session on Saturday and Goodwin said he’d pulled up “really well” from the hitout.
“We wanted to really test him out from an injury prevention perspective and make sure he could handle the load of an AFL game and there’s no question he did that,” he said.
Bennell is set to rotate between the midfield and forward line, with Goodwin emphasising the “highly talented” recruit’s kicking could add a point of difference to the Demons’ on-ball brigade.
“He’s an exciting player … we do have to just temper our expectation,” he said.
“He hasn’t played a lot of footy now in the last four years, and it may take some time to adjust to AFL level.”
If Bennell isn’t selected at AFL level, he will feature in a curtainraiser scratch match against Carlton players.