Ahead of Neville Jetta’s 150th game, former teammate and current AFL Players’ Association Indigenous Relationships Manager Jamie Bennell shares his experiences with the Melbourne defender from their days in Bunbury, Western Australia, to the MCG.
In Bunbury, Western Australia, everyone knows everyone – everyone is connected somehow through family, it’s just that type of tight-knit community.
This is how I know Neville Jetta, through family connections.
Growing up, we both played junior footy for Carey Park before we got to reunite again by joining the WAFL Colts’ Swan Districts team.
Nev was always a talented footballer, like many others from Bunbury, but as we got older, you could tell he had that competitive streak more than most.
As a group, the Bunbury boys would travel to Perth on weekends to play in the WAFL Colts league.
We spent a fair bit of time together, playing again on Sundays in the local footy league.
The 2008 Grand Final against Subiaco was one to remember.
Nev shot out of the gates in the second half and was awarded the Mel Whinnen medal for best-on-ground.
He showed his talents that day and it put him in a really good position ahead of the Draft a few weeks later.
When draft day came around Melbourne picked me up with pick No.35 and then with Melbourne’s next selection (pick No.51) they took Nev.
Knowing that I would be moving across the country with Nev by my side made that transition significantly easier.
We did pretty much everything together in those early years and we experienced a lot in our playing days together – from living away from home, having the chance to play our first game together, which included enjoying our first AFL win, being dropped for the first time and going through the tough times when injured.
One thing was certain is that we were always looking out for each other when times did get tough.
Not having a licence early on in my career, I relied heavily on Nev to get me around. He became somewhat my driver.
I can vividly remember one time we were driving to Melbourne Airport before a pre-season game in Cairns.
We were on the freeway when our car broke down and overheated.
We ended up missing our flight and we were sitting on the side of the road thinking, ‘Who do we ring and what do we do?’
Luckily, the club got us on a flight the next day and we didn’t miss the game.
We actually had a few of those little breakdowns, but looking back now, we are always able to have a laugh about those times.
Our friendship was crucial for all of those moments.
From the first day we walked in the club together, we were side by side along with Aaron Davey, Matty Whelan, Austin Wonaeamirri and Liam Jurrah. We had our little brotherhood.
What you see is what you get with Nev.
What everyone says about him and how they speak about him, is exactly what he’s like and the type of person he is.
Nev’s got an incredibly big heart and plenty of time for everyone.
Any help you need, he’s the first person that’s there.
I’ve felt that firsthand throughout our friendship and football careers, but also how I’ve come into my current role as Indigenous Relationships Manager at the AFL Players’ Association.
He’s someone I’ve been able to bounce ideas off and be in contact with regularly.
Nev’s worked incredibly hard and as a result has become an important leader in the football and Indigenous communities.
He’s been able to make a significant impact, holding positions on the AFLPA Indigenous Advisory Board and as a member of Melbourne’s leadership group.
Nev’s voice carries weight and people listen when he speaks.
Nev quietly chipped away at his football and work away from football for a long time, but now he’s reaping the rewards.
He’s not one to take the credit and he’s remained incredibly humble.
Nev knows how hard life and football can be. He’s had moments at the bottom, he’s been off a list and then picked back up (by Melbourne), and he’s been through long-term and recurring injuries.
He knows what is expected of him and the demands placed on him as a leader in the Indigenous space and he’s deserving of the praise he receives.
Above all, Nev is the ultimate family man who would do absolutely anything for them.
I could not be prouder of Nev and wish him all the very best for his 150th game.