A frank conversation with Harley Bennell has convinced Gold Coast coach Rodney Eade the controversial midfielder has a future at the AFL club.
But Eade admitted actions would now speak louder than words for the 22-year-old after the Suns finally determined his playing future on Thursday.
Suns boss Andrew Travis announced Bennell had copped a $5000 fine and three match suspended ban but would be available to return in the AFL round 17 clash with Adelaide next week.
Bennell has already missed two AFL games since being stood down after images emerged of him with an alleged illicit substance in 2013.
Bennell will play in the second tier NEAFL this weekend.
He will also undergo an off-field welfare program drawn up by the club and their chief medical officer.
The Suns mulled over a punishment for weeks after discussions with Bennell, his manager, the AFL Players’ Association and the club’s chief medical officer.
But Eade said a simple heart-to-heart with Bennell was enough to convince him the troubled but talented youngster had a bright future at the Suns.
Eade said Bennell “looked me in the eye” and promised to reverse his fortunes.
“He’s contrite about his behaviour and can see how it’s impacted other people, his teammates and the club in a wider view,” he said.
“I asked him if he wants to be at the club. He said he does, he was unequivocal about that.
“I said we’d love to keep him as well.
“He’s looked me in the eye and said he wants to do that so that’ll be judged by actions.
“I have only known him for a short time but he seems fairly determined to be able to do the right thing.”
Bennell had previously been suspended this season for failing the club’s alcohol policy.
Asked if Bennell’s future at the AFL club was safe, Travis said: “From our point of view it is now up to him to respond to this plan.
“If he delivers on this plan, then yes.
“It gives him a real opportunity to demonstrate that he is prepared to make long term changes and live up to the expectations required of him on and off field.”
Eade admitted Bennell must now win back his teammates’ respect.
“I think he needs to convince them but I am confident he will,” he said.
Travis said their chief medical officer believed the next best step for Bennell’s welfare was playing again.
Travis said he had also addressed the entire squad to ram home what was expected after also launching an internal probe into Karmichael Hunt’s allegations of drug use during his time at the club.
He expected their investigation to conclude next week.
“Right now we need to win some respect, and we will,” Travis said.