The NRL’s newest side took the league by storm immediately, winning their first game against the Roosters on their way to beginning the season 3-1.
Despite the low expectations, most expected the Dolphins to battle hard and leave everything out there under the master coach Wayne Bennett, which they did in almost every game.
What would have pleased the NRL most, was how rapidly the Dolphins’ fan base grew, with many Queenslanders swept up in the mania.
There were a couple of growing pains on the field, and the club’s lack of depth was exposed, but overall, it should be considered a successful season for a number of reasons, despite the finishing position.
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Read below for a review of the Dolphins’ 2023 campaign!
2023 record: 9 wins, 15 losses (24pts, -111)
What went right: I think it’s fair to say the Dolphins’ debut season was a rousing success, but probably more so commercially and for the growth of the sport. Their win over the Roosters in Round 1 was one of the highlights of 2023, and in turn it sparked a wave of local and interstate support for the Dolphins. In fact, you’d be hard pressed going into a Queensland club or pub and not hearing ‘Phins Up’. They attracted big crowds in every game they played at either Suncorp Stadium or secondary grounds in Redcliffe and the Sunshine Coast. Remarkably, their final game against the Warriors at Suncorp drew 35,438 fans through the gate, despite the home side coming off seven straight losses. Compare that to the Rabbitohs and Roosters clash a night earlier, which was for a spot in the finals and between two of the biggest clubs in the NRL, but that game attracted 200 less (35,263). If nothing else, it is a pretty good endorsement for another team in Queensland to be handed an NRL licence. Rugby league legend and proud Queenslander Gorden Tallis says the Dolphins’ first season was nothing but a success. “The season has definitely been a pass mark. You see all the support, the crowds are up. You see that crowd for their last game against the Warriors.” Tallis went onto say that a spot in the top eight should be their goal in 2024. “I think that would be their goal and there’s no reason why they can’t,” he said. “I really like the way they went about their business this year. I thought they were really good in patches and they’ve had some injuries and players out of position so I think they’ve had a great year.” Former Cowboy Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow emerged as a star for the Dolphins this season. At fullback, he proved he was one of the most damaging players in the league with ball in hand. A recap of the 2023 positives for the Dolphins wouldn’t be complete without Jamayne Isaako, who topped the NRL tryscorers list. Isaako was playing Queensland Cup 12 months ago but was given a lifeline by Bennett and has rewarded the master coach’s faith with a stellar season.
What went wrong: Hard to be too critical for a team destined for the wooden spoon at the start of the season but seven straight losses towards the end of their 2023 campaign was the glaring lowlight. Injuries didn’t help their cause, which in turn exposed the Dolphins’ lack of depth. As Tallis noted, a number of players played out of position to overcome the forementioned injury problems and lack of depth including Kodi Nikorima and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow. Jeremy Marshall-King, who was excellent during the Dolphins’ first half of the season, missed plenty of games with a shoulder injury. Tom Gilbert was in good touch before he suffered a season ending shoulder injury during Game I of the State of Origin series. The Dolphins were 6-5 with Gilbert in the line up and just 3-10 with him on the sideline. Many will point to the seven losses in a row at the end of the season as a reason why failure, and it’s hard to argue with that. Three of the Dolphins’ 15 losses this season were by just one point and their record in games decided by two points or less was 1-4. Young half Isiaya Katoa had some growing pains in his rookie year but he was thrown into the fire and will take a stack of benefit from this season. Veteran playmaker Anthony Milford’s season didn’t start well when his work ethic was called out by his coach amid rumours he didn’t come into Dolphins camp in the best condition. “He is like a number of players in this game – he has to make a decision whether he is really committed to getting better or is he happy just doing what he is doing and just cruising through life,” Bennett said. Milford was in-and-out of the side this season and didn’t get much of an opportunity, but was inconsistent when he did.
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What they need: The Dolphins have recruited well and will welcome three walk-up starters into their side next year in Herbie Farnworth and Tom Flegler from the Broncos and speedster Jake Averillo from the Bulldogs. The will also get back leading forward Gilbert. Position wise, there is no glaring need but some depth is required, as their lack of it was evident towards the end of their debut season. The Dolphins have some good, young forwards on their roster but also a number of veterans on short contracts, so any chance to bolster that position should be welcomed. Bennett did get the opportunity to blood some youngsters in 2023 which will no doubt help.
COMING: Herbie Farnworth (Broncos), Tom Flegler (Broncos), Jake Averillo (Bulldogs)
GOING: Herman Ese’ese (Super League), Brenko Lee (Super League), Poasa Faamausili