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Is Harley Bennell the missing piece of Fremantle's flag puzzle?

Alex Malcolm and Travis King  January 11, 2016 9:40 PM

AFL 2015 Rd 13 - Carlton v Gold Coast

Harley Bennell may be the key to Freo's forward line fortunes

Yes

The Dockers made a Grand Final, a semi-final and a preliminary final in the three seasons before recruiting Bennell.

In 2016, only veteran defender Luke McPharlin will be missing from the core group that achieved those three results.

The Dockers have depth in the defensive stocks to cover the loss of McPharlin, and he did not play in two of those finals series in any case.

Defending has not been the Dockers' issues in finals. They held Hawthorn to just 11 goals in the 2013 Grand Final and only 19 scoring shots in last season's preliminary final, although the Hawks kicked 15 goals.

The Dockers kicked just eight and 10 goals in those games respectively, therefore the recruitment of Bennell could be the answer to their premiership puzzle.

Many will point to the Dockers' inability to find another key forward to support Matthew Pavlich as the major flaw, but their lack of midfield goals has been equally damaging to their premiership chances.

The Hawks had seven players kick 20 goals or more last season, including Luke Hodge and Isaac Smith. The Dockers had just three, Pavlich, Michael Walters and Chris Mayne.

Nat Fyfe kicked 24 goals in 2014 and is the only midfielder to kick 20 goals or more in a season for the Dockers since Ross Lyon arrived in 2012.

Bennell has averaged 18 goals a season for Gold Coast in a side that has never played finals, and he has only played more than 15 games in one of those seasons.

If he can stay on the straight and narrow and play the majority of the games next year he will add another dimension to the Dockers' midfield that has been sorely missing. He will also release Fyfe to play forward more throughout the year and in the finals. - Alex Malcolm    

No

As talented as Harley Bennell is – and he could be a champion if he turns his career around – he won't be the missing piece in Fremantle's premiership puzzle.

Why? Because the Dockers' deficiencies start with a key forward-sized hole in attack. Freo is still desperately lacking an influential tall to partner Matthew Pavlich.

That's why the Dockers threw the kitchen sink at getting a trade for GWS' rising star Cam McCarthy over the line, and it's why they threw bucketloads of cash at Buddy Franklin and Travis Cloke in recent years.

With Pavlich's influence waning (he recently turned 34), it's tough to see Freo bridging the gap to Hawthorn unless one of their developing key forwards has a breakthrough season in 2016.

Last finals series the Dockers were crying out for a big man to stand up in attack. They only mustered 69 and 67 points against the severely-depleted Swans and the Hawks on their home deck, despite star small forward Michael Walters firing.

A lot has to go right for a team to win at least three finals scoring those types of numbers.

There's no doubt Bennell will add some firepower (he averages better than a goal a game), but will he be able to play with the same attacking freedom at Freo as he did at Gold Coast?

Will he be as effective in a more defensively-minded team, or will Ross Lyon make the brave call to rob Peter to pay Paul by stationing Nat Fyfe up forward, backing Bennell to fill the breach in midfield?

Then there's Bennell's off-field issues. Can he stay on the straight and narrow back in his home state – where some suggested he shouldn't return – after a controversial off-field lifestyle at the Suns?

The AFL will be better for it if he does, but time will tell and there are too many question marks hovering over Bennell and the Dockers' game style to say their premiership drought will be broken in 2016. - Travis King