13/04/2024

Dolphins looking to improve from their inaugural season. (Image: dolphinsnrl/X)

The Dolphins’ first year in the NRL started in an unexpected and high-flying vein of form, as the season was an unmitigated success even after their win rate slowed, and 2024 is where the proof will be in the pudding.

This will be the last season for master coach Wayne Bennett at the helm of the NRL’s newest club. The veteran coach will want to aim high to take The Dolphins to their first finals series.

Last Year

Three straight wins to start the year, leading to a 7-5 record at the halfway point of the season, and the Dolphins were on cloud nine, thinking maybe a finals campaign in their debut year was a real possibility.

Unfortunately, it all turned southward from there as injuries and inconsistency saw the NRL’s newest team win just two of their final twelve matches, dropping out of the top 8. It was a slippery slope as they dropped to 14th before a last-round win over the Warriors saw them wrap 2023 in 13th.

The Dolphins’ Achilles heels in 2023 were their depth and certainty of who was the best option in their most important positions. This was no more evident than in the halves where a plethora of players Sean O’Sullivan, Kodi Nikorima, Isaiya Katoa & Anthony Milford will need to be sorted into their best pairing quickly.

One sliver of sunshine was the fact that they boasted the leading point scorer (250) and try scorer (24) for the competition, with Jamayne Isaako being the first player since Mal Meninga in 1990 to take out both gongs in the same season.

Squad Changes

Ins: Jake Averillo (Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs), Herbie Farnworth & Tom Flegler (Brisbane Broncos), Oryn Keeley (Newcastle).

Outs: Brenko Lee (Brisbane Tigers, QLD Cup), JJ Collins (unsigned), Poasa Faamausili (Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs), Herman Ese’ese (Hull FC, Super League).

Their two big signings Herbie Farnworth and Tom Flegler from their rival team, add more star power to the Dolphins in season number two. Jake Averillo will add some depth in the spine as he will look to push out veteran Milford and young promising talent Katoa to claim the five-eighth jersey.

The former Bulldog also had a strong season in the centres in 2023, where he will most likely play if Wayne Bennett starts the 23-year-old.

The squad for this season looks promising for an improvement year on the solid platform they laid in their first season.

More Rugby League News

Track Watch

A couple of Dolphins players went through a reality check in the off-season, with the fans noticing the no-holds-barred approach of Wayne Bennett and his coaching staff as they have quickly laid down the law to players.

Young gun Valynce Te Whare returned to training considerably overweight and has worked overtime to get back in shape. Veteran Anthony Milford appears to start the season on the outer in terms of the halves-battle

A mixed bag from the Pre-Season Challenge saw The Dolphins pick up one win and one loss.

However, the talking point is the ACL injury to their Origin forward Tom Gilbert, after bringing in his Queensland Origin squad mate Tom Flegler to add more punch to their pack, which was predicted to enter Round 1 replete with representative stars.

Electric fullback Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow has been strong across pre-season. The Queenslander will look to star in a bolstered backline alongside new signing Herbie Farnworth, who hit the ground running in his first hit-outs in his new colours.

What To Expect

If (and it is a big if) the Dolphins can avoid too many major injuries and hold a cohesive first-choice spine combination, they have a top 17 players who could be competing for the Top 8 in Wayne Bennett’s final year at the helm.

Unfortunately for the Dolphins, injuries are a likely circumstance for all teams. If injuries occur to their spine just like in 2023, the depth of this squad and their halves combination has several questions, with the playmaking being dependent on their veterans. The top 8 could be a bridge too far, with Sean O’Sullivan, Isaiya Katoa & Kodi Nikorima needing to improve extensively to capitalise on their experienced forward pack.

It’s A Big Year For

Isaiya Katoa was earmarked as the next-generation super half when Wayne Bennett moved heaven and earth to lock in the recruit for the expansion side’s first season. A year disrupted by finding his feet and injury is now behind him and it is time to lean into the hype.

With a forward pack boasting representative stars everywhere you look, year two of his senior career proper is where the rubber will meet the road for the wunderkind in Katoa.

If Katoa can settle into a good rhythm with his halves partner, the club can settle whether he is best at five-eighth or halfback and can continue to build his combination with Jeremy Marshall-King out of the dummy half. That is a long list of ifs and items outside of his control.

Biggest Unanswered Question

What does The Dolphins’ best spine look like?

With plenty of punch in the outside backs and a star-studded engine room, if this side can iron out a first-choice spine early in the season and click, they can reach the finals in the foreseeable future.

Failure to settle early, whether, through self-determination or injury and the wooden spoon, they were projected in season one could be theirs on the second time of bidding.

Wayne Bennett has his work cut out for him in getting their one, six, seven and nine locked in early. The good news is that fitness-willing Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow & Jeremy Marshall-King look to have locked down two of the jerseys, it’s just down to who is into those other two vacancies.

Coach Index

Low

Wayne Bennett embarks on his second and final year in charge of the expansion club before he hands the reins over to Kristian Woolf. Outside of a disastrous start, Bennett is as comfortable as an NRL coach will ever be.

The only distractions may be rumours that will undoubtedly swirl around Bennett’s next steps, especially as the debate around the NRL’s 18th team heats up with Bennett being considered to take the helm at another expansion side.

Predicted Round 1 Line Up

1. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
2. Jamayne Isaako
3. Herbie Farnworth
4. Jake Averillo
5. Jack Bostock
6. Isaiya Katoa
7. Sean O’Sullivan
8. Tom Flegler
9. Jeremy Marshall-King
10. Jesse Bromwich
11. Felise Kaufusi
12. Kenny Bromwich
13. Jarrod Wallace

14. Kodi Nikorima
15. Connelly Lemuelu
16. Euan Aitken
17. Mark Nicholls 

While there are questions over who out of Katoa, O’Sullivan, Nikorima & Anthony Milford will own the starting six & seven jerseys in Round 1, the young pair of Katoa & O’Sullivan appears to have the first shot.

With the amount of talent through the forward pack and in many of the outside backs, the remainder of the squad essentially picks itself with names like Flegler, Kaufusi & Browmich time two locked into the forwards, and Tabuai Fidow, Farnworth & Isaako all out wide. It is expected that Jake Averillo will claim the other centre berth after performing well early at his new club while young Jack Bostock should claim the vacant wing spot based on what we saw last season and his pre-season form.

Ladder Prediction

9th to 12th

With the recruitment of some quality additions in Tom Flegler & Herbie Farnworth and a year under their belt as a squad working together and under Wayne Bennett, The Dolphins can improve on last year’s 13th-place finish.

The club will be better for having their first season behind them. Whilst finals are not off the radar, they might still be a step too far for the Dolphins, but never say never with Wayne Bennett and his bag of tricks at his disposal.

Subscribe to our newsletter!

About Author