For Elle Bennetts, class is permanent.
Even at the age of 32, the late-to-football athlete still has plenty of room for class. The classroom, too, is where she thrives; she is a teacher by trade.
There’s also the class in her right-foot boot on the field, and through her exemplary qualities off it.
Bennetts’ character was a key reason the Bulldogs traded the half-back flanker in from Greater Western Sydney during the 2021 trade period.
Despite assuming the teacher role at her new club, she is equally ready to be the student.
“I’m a little bit older than the majority of the list, but I’ve only been playing footy for the time I’ve been playing in the AFLW. There’s heaps for me to improve on,” she told aflplayers.com.au.
A former netballer, Bennetts claimed four premierships while playing for the Victorian Fury in the Australian Netball League before earning a Super Netball debut with the New South Wales Swifts in 2019.
The dual-sport athlete joined GWS as a rookie in 2017 and has since made a habit of moving beyond her comfort zone.
“I suppose when you’re in a space you can get quite comfortable, so stepping outside my comfort zone and into a new environment is always a good challenge,” she said.
The prospect of venturing into the unknown was also why she made the tough call to leave the Giants after averaging 15 touches a game last season.
“It’s been an interesting transition,” Bennetts said. “I knew a few of the girls and I knew ‘Burkey’ (Bulldogs AFLW coach Nathan Burke) so I had that connection, but I decided I wanted to come home to be closer to the family, even though I absolutely loved my time up in Sydney with the Giants.”
Though the transition was made relatively smooth by her rapport with Burke — she previously taught two of his daughters — any hope of easing into life at Whitten Oval was soon quashed by COVID complications, as completing two-week quarantine after entering Victoria was soon met with more isolation due to a positive case within the Bulldogs’ program.
“It’s been a bit of a road, but hopefully it all comes together. It’s been a challenge just getting that consistency, but as a whole, everyone’s tracking really well. We’ve got less and less (players) in rehab, which is amazing,” Bennetts said.
“Hopefully being in that more experienced age group, I’m bringing something different to the group. It’s been quite refreshing.”
Bennetts is not only armed with experience, but also the ability to pass it on.
The long-time teacher currently instructs physical education classes at Methodist Ladies’ College and is a Girls’ Sport Victoria coordinator. Her skill in mentoring younger players will be one of the many behind-the-scenes traits she offers at the Whitten Oval.
“I think that obviously comes naturally,” Bennetts said. “Especially with the younger ones, you just want to be supportive and positive so that they can continue to build in a safe environment. Even with some of the girls that have already been there, it’s always nice having someone who hasn’t been in the program for a while, just a new set of eyes.”
Of course, combining top-level football with teaching is no mean feat. Superior organisation and a firm focus on sleep, Bennetts says, are paramount in ensuring her success in both fields.
“It is a massive challenge,” she said.
“When I was in Sydney, I was working full-time as well. Once footy had finished, I’d then go to netball. I’ve given netball a bit of a rest so that I’ve actually got time to do things in the off-season.
“I’ll be [teaching] full-time next year, but [Methodist Ladies’ College] are supportive of the commitments around AFLW, and the Dogs are supportive of that (teaching) as well — they’re very understanding that we’ve got lives outside of sport.
“I’ve just got to be super organised. I’m generally pretty cooked by the time I get to training, so it’s just getting through it. Sleep’s important to me. I feel that can go by the wayside.”
Now, Bennetts’ seniority is set to aid the Bulldogs in their bid to dismiss the narrative that they are a young and inexperienced outfit.
“We’re trying to go away from that sort of description. We’ve got the two flags by 2025 as our main goal, so I think there’s some really exciting things to come,” Bennetts said.
“There are a few rounds in [the upcoming season] that are super exciting. That round one game against Melbourne, round three is Pride Round against Carlton — they’re both at Whitten Oval — then the Collingwood game, Indigenous Round at Vic Park, they’ll be awesome.”