The big problem emerging for NRL’s new club

The challenges of putting together a roster with no starting base are unique, and very rare in the NRL era. The Dolphins will be just the fourth team to have to build a squad from scratch since 1998, along with the Storm, Rabbitohs, and Titans.

There’s definitely a mixed bag of fortunes in those three. Melbourne were immediately successful and have sustained that success ever since. After returning to the competition in 2002 following their exclusion at the end of the 1999 season, Souths were awful before slowly growing once again into one of the league’s powerhouses.

The Gold Coast boasted some big-name signings and had some positive moments in their first few years, but have been mired in mediocrity for most of their existence.

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The Dolphins still have plenty of time to add to their roster, but how is their team list stacking up so far for 2023?

DOLPHINS SQUAD FOR 2023

Felise Kaufusi

An Origin representative and longtime Storm forward, Kaufusi brings an excellent pedigree with him to his new team.

While his announcement as the club’s first big signing last November wasn’t the most glamourous coup, he’s the type of player you need to be immediately successful.

Ray Stone

His 2022 season may have ended with a brutal injury while scoring a match-winning try, but the Eels forward offers the type of versatility that you need at a new club, when there’s plenty of positions that need cover.

“We need to build some depth to the squad we will ultimately enter the competition with, and Ray is just the type of player we are looking for,” Dolphins CEO Terry Reader said in December.

“He is one of the most feared defenders in the NRL and when we sat down to talk about recruitment, Ray Stone was one of the first players that Wayne Bennett spoke about.”

jamayne isaako

Isaako will bounce around to his third Queensland team in less than two years when he pulls on a Dolphins jersey in 2023, having completed a mid-year switch from the Broncos to the Titans a few weeks ago.

Right now, he’s the only established backline player the club have locked up for their first season.

“Jamayne is fast, elusive and a point-scoring machine, so we welcome him into the first ever Dolphins squad,” Reader said.

“We have signed a couple of quality forwards in Felise Kaufusi and Ray Stone so it is encouraging to get an international outside back onto our roster as well.”

Mark Nicholls

The Rabbitohs granted their cult forward an early release in January, so that he could reunited with Wayne Bennett and be a part of the club’s first campaign.

Nicholls told Wide World of Sports in February that it was an agonizing decision to leave Souths, but one he had to make – both for job security for his family, and the chance to be a part of something unique.

“It’s already an established Q-Cup team with a lot of history, but the opportunity to pull on that jersey as an NRL player in their first year was an attraction,” he said.

Why Dolphins recruitment is falling flat

Jesse Bromwich

Club CEO Terry Reader stressed that when starting from scratch, signing leaders was important – their second-profile signing from the Storm after Kaufusi, the 32-year-old has been locked in until the end of 2024.

“Jesse will bring a host of good qualities to the Dolphins’ inaugural roster, not the least of which will be his exposure at the highest levels of rugby league,” Reader said in January.

“He has been one of the shining lights of the strong Storm system for the last decade so will bring a tremendous level of professionalism with him.

Kenny Bromwich

Two weeks after his brother, Kenny followed suit – but is signed until 2025, rather than 2024.

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“Along with his brother Jesse, Felise and also our signing from the Rabbitohs Mark Nicholls, we know we are going to be starting pre-season training with some real leadership in our squad,” Reader said.

Tom Gilbert

Their most-recent first grade signing, Gilbert can play in the middle or an edge and has been impressive for the Cowboys so far.

But the cup of young forward talent is overflowing at the moment in North Queensland, allowing the Norths Devils junior to return to Brisbane, where he grew up.

THE YOUNG GUNS

With the addition of Jack Bostock earlier today, the Dolphins are trying to cultivate a healthy mix of youth and experience.

They signed five-eighth Michael Roberts, hooker Harrison Graham and outside back Valynce Te Whare as part of their initial signing blitz in late 2021, and in February snapped up the highly-rated halfback Isaiya Katoa, who many regard as among the best playmaking prospects in the country.

FUTURE TARGETS

The big moves made by the club to try and land Kalyn Ponga and Brandon Smith are no secret – rumors about Cameron Munster’s future won’t go away, while there’s been widespread speculation that Sean O’Sullivan, the son of recruitment manager Peter and current understudy to Nathan Cleary, will be joining as well.

But right now it’s clear that the club needs to sign backs. Katoa might be a future star but he’s still a teenager – at time of writing, Isaako is really the only player you can guarantee will wear any jersey numbered 1 through 7.

Herbie Farnworth has impressed for the Broncos in 2022, and is off-contract at the end of the season.

Warriors five-eighth Chanel Harris-Tavita is one of the most underrated spine players in the competition, while Anthony Milford’s stay in Newcastle is expected to be a brief one before he returns to Queensland with the expansion franchise next year.

Taane Milne, Jaxson Paulo and Isaiah Tass have all had stints in first grade at Souths, are off-contract and are all young enough to be long-term pieces for the Dolphins should they prove good enough, as is Eels winger Hayze Perham.

With the way things are shaping up it looks like 2023 might be a challenging season for the new side, with 2024 offering far more opportunities to bolster the squad – but there’s still plenty of time to spring a surprise.

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