Harley Bennell with the Polly Farmer medal he won in Friday's All Star game
UNDERNEATH the laconic exterior, silky Gold Coast midfielder Harley Bennell is working relentlessly to improve on his breakthrough 2012 season.
Now in his third pre-season on the Gold Coast, the number two pick from the 2010 NAB AFL National Draft showed supporters his football gifts last year, with a combination of evasive footwork, outside speed and an innate finishing ability around goals.
He was second behind captain Gary Ablett in the Suns’ best and fairest and polled maximum Brownlow Medal votes against Fremantle (37 disposals, three goals) and Melbourne (38 disposals, four goals).
Bennell lifts All Stars
But the 20-year-old West Australian, whose homesickness led to a club suspension in 2011, is more than just a freakish talent – he’s a diligent worker who continues to surprise his coach and the fitness staff.
New Suns physical performance manager Stephen Schwerdt said Bennell’s work ethic was exceptional.
“I ran with him a few times in Arizona and I was blown away by his running capabilities,” Schwerdt told AFL.com.au.
For someone with Bennell’s pace – check out his round 24 three-bounce goal against Hawthorn in 2011 as evidence – he is now quickly starting to match it with his endurance.
Coach Guy McKenna said alongside Bennell's quiet nature, was a thirst for hard work and ironing out his deficiencies.
“He clearly has worked really hard on improving his aerobic tank. I’ve got no doubt there was one there, but he’s worked hard. That’s a pleasing thing from a coach’s point of view, he’s gone to another level. His pre-season has been exceptional,” McKenna said.
“For a player early in their career the natural thing is to say ‘hey, I’ve had a good year, I’ve made it’ but Harley is a clever fella and he understands he’s had a good year but he needs to keep improving.”
With his emergence as a genuine game-changer, Bennell found himself with the occasional opposition tag last season.
McKenna said having Ablett to learn from would help him through that process.
“The beauty of having Gary in the group, he understands the only way to blow a tagger up is to out-work them and clearly Harley has been working on that fairly hard over the pre-season,” he said.
“He wants to be the best he can. On the training track he has put every step forward, he rarely misses a session. He’s very durable. We have to manage him.
“David Swallow probably works at a higher intensity, he moves quicker for shorter distances, but Harley works over longer distances and is able to replicate it.”
Michael Whiting covers Gold Coast news for AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter: @AFL_mikewhiting