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AFL legends Eddie Betts and Damien Hardwick on Geelong star Tyson Stengle’s rise from drug hell

AFL greats have highlighted the meteoric rise of Cats star Tyson Stengle, who was named an All Australian after two drug offenses as he played a huge role in helping Geelong reach this year’s Grand Final.

The former Crow and Tiger was delisted by Adelaide in 2021 after a series of serious off-field incidents in a matter of months, including drunk driving and twice being caught with an illegal substance.

Adelaide were essentially left with no choice but to sack the incredibly talented forward, but on the recommendation of assistant coach Eddie Betts, Geelong eagerly added him to their already powerful forward line in the pre-season.

As one of Stengle’s closest friends – and obviously a father figure to the Indigenous forward – Betts knew his distant relative had the potential to be a great man.

Betts has now revealed his devastated reaction to discovering Stengle was caught with an illegal substance.

“It was tough when these incidents happened,” Betts told the Herald Sun of the series of events leading up to Stengle’s sacking from the Crows.

“One day I was looking at my phone and there was a story about an Adelaide player who had been busted for drugs.

“It didn’t say who it was and as I waited for it to load I was like, ‘Please don’t be Tyson, please don’t be Tyson.’ And then Tyson Stengle showed up. F***,” Betts said of the 2020 incident.

Stengle and teammate Brad Crouch were caught by police with an illegal substance in Adelaide’s CBD on a September 2020 evening.

Three months later, he was spotted in front of a sign with an allegedly illegal substance after being arrested on multiple driving charges in April of that year.

The precocious striker had been pulled over by police for driving an unregistered car and was then found to have a blood alcohol count of 0.125 – but it seems those days are finally behind him.

As the 23-year-old prepares to play in Saturday’s AFL grand final, Betts said it’s been a phenomenal comeback.

“He made history as the first delisted free agent to be an All Australian. He can move back-to-back Premierships from SANFL to AFL… It’s just an amazing story,” said the 350-game Indigenous legend.

In his recently published autobiography, The Boy from Boomerang Crescent, Betts explains that Stengle came to live with him, his wife Anna, and their five children.

“He is a fun and caring Fulla and my kids just absolutely loved him,” he wrote.

“Sometimes Tyson can be a shy, misunderstood kid, but he has overcome serious adversity to get to where he is today. He is a leader and both foot smart and street smart.”

These adversities, apart from the problems off the field, relate to his upbringing. With one parent absent and another dying young, Stengle and his siblings were often in care early in their lives.

But Stengle’s fun side showed in his early years with the Tigers, and coach Damien Hardwick recalled the time the man affectionately known as ‘Wombat’ called him when he was a little down.

“We were playing the Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium on a Sunday and he called me at 2am [after playing VFL] and I didn’t reply to it. To be fair, he had a few beers, “Wombo,” Hardwick told the Herald Sun.

“We called him on Facetime before the game and he answered and the boys laughed a lot. He’s a great kid, we wish him the best and hopefully he walks away as a Premiership winner.’

Hardwick said the striker bag is still “popular at the club” where he won the VFL Premiership in 2017 as an 18-year-old.

Next Sunday he might just be an AFL premiership player — football’s holy grail.

Stengle’s talent has never been questioned in his 40-game career – and with his settled life off the field, he’s clearly thriving in Geelong.

In his remarkable 2022 season, he scored 49 goals in 24 games – an incredible return from a pocket in a forward line that already includes Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron.

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