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Revealed: Dolphins recruitment plan and marquee hit list for 2023 NRL debut season

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Expert
11th October, 2021
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Well before Redcliffe were on the verge of securing the NRL’s 17th licence, they started working on a recruitment strategy and planning how to compile their roster.

The team behind the bid kicked off with with informal conversations with super coach Wayne Bennett.

Bennett is expected to land the gig as Head Coach of the Dolphins in due course but in the meantime, the planning continues.

The decision makers have drawn up their plan for how to assemble their squad and, taking a page out of Melbourne’s playbook, it’s understood they’re intending on building their roster around a ‘big three or four’.

The positions they intend on targeting as marquee signings are fullback, five-eighth, backrower and hooker.

That brings us to the wish list and sitting at the very top, as the marquee target, is Cameron Munster.

Munster would’ve been the top target for all the bid teams but having beaten the Firehawks and Jets as Brisbane’s second team, the Dolphins will be making a play to land the Melbourne five-eighth.

As one of the faces of the new franchise, they would need to be prepared to pay upwards of $1.3 million a season to make the dream a reality.

Cam Munster

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

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He’s made no secret of his interest in returning to Queensland either. Although he’s tied to the Storm until the end of the 2023 season, Munster has publicly declared he would be interested in speaking with any new franchise.

And that’s music to the ears of the Dolphins given they know how crucial it is for future signings to see big names making the move.

With five-eighth earmarked as a big money position, halfback will need to be covered by a role player.

Think along the lines of Manly having Daly Cherry-Evans on more than $1 million and Kieran Foran as the support act on around $400,000.

Queensland product Ash Taylor will join the Warriors on a train and trial in November and might be wise to sign a one-year-deal should he be offered a contract. A player like Taylor or Anthony Milford looms as a cheap half option.

Aside from five-eighth, fullback is a crucial role and they don’t come much more exciting than Kalyn Ponga.

Newcastle will fight tooth and nail to hold onto the Queensland Origin star but take it as read, conversations are being had about bringing the 23-year-old ‘home’.

Should they be unable to secure a Ponga-like player, then there’s a thought of recruiting a rising star in the role. Just like Newcastle did when they laid out big money to lure Ponga from North Queensland as a rookie.

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One player who fits that bill is Brisbane’s Selwyn Cobbo. He made his NRL debut in 2021, playing seven games. He’s 19 and is only scratching the surface.
In May this year, he extended his contract with the Broncos until the end of 2023 but watch this space with interest.

When the Gold Coast joined the NRL in 2007, they did so by recruiting the likes of high-profile players Scott Prince, Mat Rogers, Luke Bailey, Preston Campbell and Anthony Laffranchi.

The Dolphins intend on following a similar path but taking their marquee signings to an even greater level than the Titans did.

Penrith’s Viliame Kikau is another key target. The backrower is a powerful runner and genuine game changer.

Another game changer and perhaps most interesting target is Jason Taumalolo, who has been discussed by the team builders.

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While he’s locked away in North Queensland until the end of 2027 on a deal worth $1 million a season, there’s a belief among several NRL clubs that it doesn’t mean he will see that deal out.

The new team can start signing players as of November 1. So, who is on the market as of 2022?

As far as the hookers are concerned, there’s plenty of quality becoming available.

Brandon Smith, Reed Mahoney and Api Koroisau are all off-contract and Smith is the kind of player any club would love to have.

While he’s staying in Melbourne for now, should he find himself stuck behind Harry Grant next season, you can all but guarantee a move is on the horizon.

Once the Dolphins lock away their marquee men, the focus will turn to the supporting cast.

If you can sign game changers and put experience around them without breaking the bank, it makes for a wonderful recipe for making a team from scratch.

There’s a belief that if the Dolphins can fill their roster with 20-25 NRL ready players and use developing-project players for the remainder of the squad, the team will be in shape to compete.

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Many of the later are already in their system.

The Dolphins have a handy project player in Queensland Cup No.1 Trai Fuller.

He’s 24 and dynamic. While smaller in stature, he’s electric and would make for a great squad player or one for the development list.

Another player highly rated within the organisation is Nathan Watts.

At 25, Watts is a workhorse and has been unlucky in his bid to turn fulltime, picking up a knee injury last season while trialling for a contract with the Warriors.

But this prop who can also play lock has 63 Queensland Cup games under his belt and is knocking on the door for an NRL start.

The Dolphins also have NRL experience within their ranks in the form of captain Cameron Cullen, Shane Pumipi, Jeremy Hawkins and Manaia Cherrington.

Jayden Nikorima also spent 2021 at the club but heads to Melbourne next year after securing an NRL lifeline.

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The addition of the Dolphins to the NRL is a timely decision for players with a surplus of first-grade footballers currently clubless. One such player is Adam Elliott.

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The backrower remains unsigned since having his contract torn up by Canterbury.

The likes of Dylan Walker, Edrick Lee, Dylan Napa, Mitch Rein, Ryley Jacks, Jack Gosiewski and Siliva Havili are all without an NRL contract for next season – plenty of talent with much to offer the game.

Aside from the marquees off-contract in 2023, there are several role players shaping as candidates.

Corey Horsburgh fits the bill. He’s played 38 first grade games but just ten last season.

Jamayne Taunoa-Brown has 34 to his name and played ten in 2021 including two on loan with St George Illawarra.

The likes of Martin Taupau, Siosiua Taukeiaho, Herbie Farnworth, Corey Oates, Christian Welch, Tariq Sims, Pat Carrigan and Braden Hamlin-Uele are also off-contract.

There’s also the allure of bringing players back to the club who have a connection to it.
Toby Rudolf, Tyson Gamble and Josh Kerr have all played for the Dolphins before.

Rudolf is signed to Cronulla until the end of 2024, Kerr is at St George Illawarra until the end of 2023 and Gamble is contracted to Brisbane until 2024.

But don’t be surprised if the Dolphins were to make a play for someone like Gamble should he fail to see much game time with the Broncos next season. The same goes for Kerr at the Dragons.

Here’s a possible Dolphins side: 1. Kalyn Ponga, 2. Edrick Lee, 3. Philip Sami, 4. Herbie Farnworth, 5. Jeremy Hawkins, 6. Cameron Munster, 7. Anthony Milford, 8. Christian Welch, 9. Brandon Smith, 10. Lachlan Timm, 11. Tariq Sims, 12. Viliame Kikau, 13. Corey Horsburgh, 14. Jayden Nikorima, 15. Adam Elliott, 16. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, 17. Nathan Watts

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