Wayne Bennett admits things are “progressing slowly” as he tries to build an NRL team from scratch to compete in the elite competition next year.
The Dolphins will enter the league ahead of the 2023 season and supercoach Bennett is charged with compiling a 30-man roster strong enough to compete with the best in the business.
With just three months until Bennett will want to kick off pre-season training with his players, the Dolphins have signed only 19 to the top squad, complemented by a number of development contracts.
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The Dolphins look fairly stocked for experienced forwards, with the likes of Jesse Bromwich, Felise Kaufusi, and Kenny Bromwich committed to the expansion team. But the current list lacks genuine star power.
Bennett has been knocked back by a host of rugby league superstars, including Kalyn Ponga, Reece Walsh, Brandon Smith, and – for the time being, at least – Cameron Munster.
There’s been calls for the governing body to step in and either help the Dolphins sign a marquee player, or delay their introduction into the league.
“(Recruitment is) progressing slowly,” Bennett said on Monday.
“I’m pretty happy with where we’re at. We don’t totally have all the players that we want, but we know what we’re doing and we’re slowing building.
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“We have 19 players contracted at the moment – plus a few trainees and that – we still have good options out there, we’ve just got to make the right decisions.
“We want to have a competitive team next year, and at the same time we want to have a load of young players coming through over the next four or fives years who will go on to be wonderful players.
“What we’ve paid for the players has been good value for them and good value for us, and we have got a fair bit left in the cap to get those players we are looking for.
“We won’t have that excuse that we can’t afford that bloke, if he is the right bloke.”
Bennett has ruffled plenty of feathers in the NRL over his pursuit of a marquee player, who the Dolphins could pay as much as $1.5 million – more than $200,000 more than the highest annual salary ever paid to a player in Australia.
Knights legend Andrew Johns threw verbal barbs at Bennett for flying to Sydney to meet with Ponga. Melbourne lodged a complaint with the NRL over Bennett’s repeated attempts to lure Munster away from the Storm, while the Dolphins and Warriors got in a stink over Walsh’s decision to join the Broncos instead of Bennett’s side.
The legendary coach has been criticized for failing to recruit a marquee star to date.
Bennett explained why certain players haven’t been keen on accepting his advances.
“It’s the unknown for the players, is the issue,” he said.
“The players I’ve been most keen on are the ones who have been asking who they’re going to play with. The ones I worry about want to know who else is playing with them.
“That’s the unknown. When I took the position here we had no players, so I’m confident enough with what I can do, and I want them to trust the fact we can build a good team here.”
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