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Alex Malcolm  February 16, 2016 7:19 PM

AFL 2016 Portraits - Fremantle

The Dockers aren't relying on Harley Bennell to be the last piece of their premiership puzzle

HARLEY Bennell should not be branded as the final piece of Fremantle's unsolved premiership puzzle, according to Dockers midfielder Michael Barlow.

The Dockers' star recruit adds another element to their midfield and may allow Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe to play more forward this season.

But Barlow said it would be incorrect to suggest that Bennell was the vital ingredient Fremantle had been missing, as it would undersell what the Dockers have achieved under Ross Lyon. 

"I don't think Harley is going to be [anointed] as the saviour by any stretch of the imagination," Barlow said on Tuesday. 

"We were minor premiers last year and were a couple of kicks away from going into another Grand Final without him and with some injuries to key personnel at really significant times.

"We know our best football with the group we've had for a long time really stands up.

"But as has been alluded to, trying to score one or two more goals against really high-end opposition has been the challenge.

"We've trained it since December and now we're just bursting out of our skins to go out and implement it."

The Dockers play their first NAB Challenge game of 2016 on Friday against Richmond at Rushton Park in Mandurah.

But it appears unlikely Bennell will make his debut for the club in the pre-season.

The former Gold Coast midfielder has hardly trained with the main group since Christmas due to ongoing calf problems.

Bennell, 23, is still in the rehab group and there has been no timeline placed on when he will play. 

Barlow said the club was not concerned over Bennell's availability for round one.

"I think the focus externally around Harley will be will he play, will he get up for round one, but I know the club's stance is that Harley is going to be a long-term player for the club," Barlow said.

"He's such a young player and we really hope he'll be here for 8-10 years. So round one, if he gets there and (whether) has the appropriate match fitness that will be determined by the fitness staff and coaches."

Barlow said the players had not yet been told who was playing in Friday's NAB Challenge clash.

He said he would prefer to play as many games as possible in the pre-season to get him ready for round one.