Fremantle Docker Harley Bennell could make AFL return next week

If all goes to plan in the latest phase of a long and complicated comeback for controversial Fremantle recruit and Peel football product Harley Bennell, he could finally make his Dockers debut next week.

The former Gold Coast star needs only to survive a WAFL match with Peel Thunder against bottom team Perth in Mandurah on Saturday to be on the brink of a return to the highest level. 

If Bennell emerges unscathed early into next week without further setbacks to his troublesome calves or any other injury, it looks certain he will play against top-four bound Richmond in Perth. 

Harley Bennell will need to get through this week's clash with Perth unscathed. Photo: Kate Hedley.

Harley Bennell will need to get through this week's clash with Perth unscathed. Photo: Kate Hedley.

It will be Bennell's first AFL outing since the final match of the 2015 season before he was traded to Fremantle after falling out of favour at the Suns.

He played 81 Suns games and booted 92 goals from an average of around 22 disposals a game – as one of the most exciting young guns in the AFL.

An emotionally-charged Dockers debut for the high-profile import will also be Fremantle's farewell to home matches at Subiaco Oval, with games from next season being played at Perth's plush new 60,000-seat stadium.

Dockers coach Ross Lyon seems determined to play Bennell in recognition of his persistence to overcome his chronic calf problems and two years of constant doubts raging through the AFL industry that he could make it back to his former glory.

A Bennell return to AFL ranks is considered by Lyon and Dockers insiders as a crucial spur, heading into a gruelling summer training schedule with distinct hopes of a full-time return next season.

Bennell returned through Peel Thunder against East Perth in round 17. Photo: Kate Hedley.

Bennell returned through Peel Thunder against East Perth in round 17. Photo: Kate Hedley.

Bennell, 24, is considered pivotal to Lyon's long-term projections for additional depth through his midfield if he ever recovers full fitness and important ball-touch to run on the ball.

It is understood he is an alternative as a clever, crumbing forward and goal-scoring source in the event that Hayden Ballantyne continues to falter or is not offered a new contract early next month ahead of extensive list assessments by Lyon and his staff.