Harley Bennell is suspended in all but name, with Gold Coast coach Rodney Eade confirming the player is fit and ready to play AFL, but no guarantee to return next week.
Eade said Bennell’s exile from the team is “open-ended”, but stopped short of describing it as punishment for the 22-year-old’s drug-related misdemeanours.
Bennell did not travel with the Suns to Cairns for Saturday’s clash with the Western Bulldogs, after also missing last week’s win over North Melbourne.
Asked if Bennell’s absence should be interpreted as a club-enforced punishment, Eade said: “He wants to play.”
“But we don’t think it’s appropriate that he does play for a whole range of reasons.”
The Suns have maintained Bennell’s case is a welfare issue and, in a carefully worded statement released on Thursday, Gold Coast chief executive Andrew Travis said it was not in Bennell’s best interests to play this weekend.
Asked if the club had concerns over how Bennell might handle the scrutiny of an AFL return under the current circumstances, Eade said: “I think you would with anyone.”
“You’ve got to make sure the individual’s in the right headspace.
“There’ll be more education with him as well about what expectations are but around the use of any (illicit) product.”
The Suns have been dogged by rumours of rampant drug use within the squad for months, but the club was thrown into full-blown damage control last week when photos emerged of Bennell allegedly preparing to use an illicit substance.
Eade said he had spoken to Bennell and said the player was remorseful for the damage he had caused to the club and its reputation.
“Even though it was two-and-a-half years ago, he acknowledges he’s made a mistake and hopefully, with our assistance and help, he can improve his life,” he said.