The Dolphins will be the fourth team of the NRL era to start from scratch; Melbourne in 1998, Souths in 2002, and Gold Coast in 2007 being the others.
They look to have locked up a pretty solid forward back for 2023, they’ve got one of the greatest coaches in the history of Australian sport, but are sorely lacking in outside backs.
The fortunes of those aforementioned teams in their first seasons varied greatly – and it’s difficult to speculate on where on that spectrum the Dolphins will fall.
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But here’s a look back at what each of those teams did at the first time of asking.
If you could draw up a perfect expansion franchise in Australian, or indeed world sport, the Storm would be it.
They finished two points off top spot in their inaugural season before winning a premiership the following year – and aside from the 2001 and 2002 season where they finished ninth and tenth, have made the finals every year since (apart from when they had their points stripped in 2010).
They had a well-regarded coach in 1998 in Chris Anderson, and signed plenty of current and future stars – benefitting from the shutdown of several ex-Super League franchises as well as some shrewd purchases from elsewhere.
Glenn Lazarus, Tawera Nikau, Robbie Kearns, Rodney Howe, Brett Kimmorley, Marcus Bai, Scott Hill, Matt Geyer and Robbie Ross were all there from day one – many of those coming from the Perth Reds, Adelaide Rams and Hunter Mariners, who were brought to extinction by the collapse of Super League.
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBIOHS
Not technically an expansion franchise, but after a two year expulsion from the NRL, the Rabbitohs returned needing to rebuild entirely.
It’s fair to say that Souths’ re-instatement to the league didn’t go as smoothly as Melbourne’s debut season. Spared the wooden spoon only due to the Bulldogs having all their points deducted for salary cap breaches, the Rabbitohs were largely limited to cast-offs from other clubs or players nearing the end of their careers.
Their inaugural captain, Adam Muir, retired at the end of the season. Russell Richardson only played a handful more games before doing likewise in 2004.
Souths won five games in their return to the NRL, three in the next, and five the year after that.
2002 was a brutal year, but they did manage to unearth a couple of players who’d be there for the club’s return to finals football and beyond.
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Nathan Merritt, Luke Stuart, Shane Rigon and Scott Geddes all became mainstays at the club, but most of the other players were either gone or on the way out by the time Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court bought the club in 2006.
GOLD COAST TITANS
The region had been without a professional rugby league team since the Chargers were packed up at the end of the 1998 season, and the appetite for footy had well and truly returned by the time they were confirmed to be joining the competition in the 2007 season.
Inaugural CEO Michael Searle was prominent in the media, and the club had plenty of big names for their first season – Preston Campbell, Scott Prince, Mat Rogers and Luke Bailey among them.
The Titans had found some form in the middle of the season and had shot all the way up to fourth on the ladder, before losing eight of their last 10 to finish in 12th spot.
2008 was almost a carbon copy. They were on top of the ladder after 10 rounds and still in the top four at the halfway point, but won three games out of 15 to end the year, finishing third from bottom.
In both 2009 and 2010 they finished in the top four, but won just a solitary finals game before collapsing and getting the wooden spoon in 2011.
That 28-16 win over the Warriors in September 2010 remains the club’s only finals win.
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