Written by Oliver Kellner-Dunk
Many people are tipping a bottom-four to last-place finish for The Dolphins in their inaugural NRL season and rightfully so.
On paper, they have a team with NRL experience but one that lacks a real star player in a key position that can get the best out of these talented individuals.
The Dolphins have managed to build a respectable forward pack but other than that there are no real areas of strength in this side, especially in the spine.
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Tesi Niu and Jamayne Isaako are all options to play at fullback for The Dolphins but all three are yet to stand out as an NRL quality fullback with Tabuai-Fidow and Niu proving fine in the role in the past but simply lack the experience and guidance to play there full time while Isaako has had many a chance in the role at the Broncos and Titans but often put in poor performances.
Anthony Milford should secure the five-eighth position and quietly had a good season in Newcastle last year, going under the radar due to the Knights form as a whole and the stigma surrounding his last couple of seasons at the Broncos; however, he has now been thrust back into the limelight as a player in a key role at a new team no less which brings into question whether or not he can handle the pressure.
Sean O’Sullivan received praise for his form in early 2022 at the Penrith Panthers when filling in for an injured Nathan Cleary but it is important to note that in those games he received plenty of help from the club’s captain Isaah Yeo who played a more active role in controlling Penrith’s attack in those games to cover O’Sullivan’s weaknesses.
No team can be successful without a game-controlling half and The Dolphins simply do not have one.
In the nine will be Jeremy Marshall-King who was great for the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs last year but has proven that even at his best he can rarely win games for his team without a strong spine surrounding him.
The Dolphins have been unable to build a great roster yet they have still put together the best side that they possibly can for 2023, a statement that will confuse many at first but it’s true for the simple fact that they could not have signed better players than the ones that they did.
While people are justified in pointing out that on paper the Dolphins roster is poor in comparison to others those pointing the finger at Wayne Bennett, Peter O’Sullivan or any other Dolphins staff member for this being the case are in the wrong.
Before The Dolphins were even confirmed to be the NRL’s 17th team the market for players eligible to negotiate with rival clubs for 2023 was relatively weak.
Apart from a few solid forwards, most of which The Dolphins signed, there was a limited number of players with consistent first-grade experience on the market and even fewer that were of a higher quality than the average NRL player.
This was especially true when it came to spine players as most clubs had either locked up their star fullbacks, halves and hookers on long-term deals or instantly took to the market and secured talent for 2023 before the 2022 season had even begun, for example, the Bulldogs signing Reed Mahoney and the Eels signing Josh Hodgson.
Wayne Bennett knew this which is why throughout last year there was speculation of players such as Cameron Munster and Kalyn Ponga joining The Dolphins in 2024.
Bennett understood he would not be able to build a strong side for 2023 without clubs releasing star players from their contracts early which was unlikely to happen so behind the scenes he already began looking two years ahead.
Unfortunately The Dolphins have been unsuccessful in recruiting any marquee players to join them in 2024 but the fact remains that at least for this upcoming season this club has built the best possible team that they could have.