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Why the Dolphins are all at sea ahead of a crucial year

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Roar Guru
20th November, 2021
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2357 Reads

Are the Redcliffe Dolphins in crisis? Perhaps that’s a touch extreme, but after 20 days of the NRL transfer period they have sort of landed one fringe player who has an option to still stay with the Broncos. If it’s not a crisis, it’s not far off.

Firstly, I’m calling them Redcliffe because they have been that for 50-plus years, and the Dolphins are anyway synonymous with Miami, so let’s not be scared to add a regional area.

But putting that to one side, prior to 1 November all the talk was about which Queenslander (or Kiwi) they would sign. Though they are still linked with Brandon Smith, most of the other players, like Harry Grant or Cameron Munster, have recommitted to their existing teams.

Reagan Campbell-Gillard was odds-on to leave the Eels and sign with the Dolphins until Parramatta threw big money at him to stay. Since then there’s been hardly anyone linked to them who fits the bill of being off contract in 2023 and a top-tier player.

The only live option they have is Brandon Smith, who has many other options available to him. Obviously in Wayne Bennett and Peter O’Sullivan the Dolphins have recruited good foundations, but they now need to land a face for the new team, which is proving hard.

I suggest there are a few reasons for this to be happening.

With a new team entering the league there is natural inflation for player salaries as more clubs are chasing the same players, and at the moment the Dolphins are probably being used as a tool to get better deals at existing clubs, as is the case for Campbell-Gillard.

Reagan Campbell-Gillard

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Secondly, it isn’t that easy to build a roster from scratch. Sure, you have the whole cap to spend, but generally it isn’t easy to get a top-eight roster immediately. Look at Souths when they were readmitted. They spent big on players like Bryan Fletcher and Adam Muir in their first few years and had a lot of fringe first-graders who were elevated to a level they probably weren’t all suited too.

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The Titans actually had quite a good balance in 2007 and made the finals twice in their first four years. The key to that was Preston Campbell, Scott Prince and Nathan Friend, unsurprisingly their spine players, who they could build the team around.

Melbourne back in 1998 was something of an anomaly as they benefitted from the Hunter Mariners and Western/Perth Reds folding, presenting them with two teams to pick the eyes out of to create a new side.

Another possible reason is not all players are after a ‘project’ or want to do the hard yards to build a team. Look at the Roosters, who can attract players for less than market value knowing they will be playing finals and will contend for a premiership. Conversely, the Bulldogs and Tigers in recent years have had to pay over market rates to get players in given they will probably be watching football in September as opposed to playing.

Looking at players who may be available in 2023, the Dolphins need to find quality in their spine and build from there. Though they are in contention for Brandon Smith, it will be a big part of the salary cap. Arguably Reed Mahoney would be a cheaper option given he’s younger, he’s from the wider catchment area and he hasn’t been in trouble off the field.

Kodi Nikorima seems a logical choice as well. He wants to stay in the region, has a year on his contract and can play multiple positions. In an ideal world, Kalyn Ponga would be a great investment as the face of the team – he plays No. 1, kicks goals and is developing into a leader.

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Patience could be a key part of the Dolphins strategy. The reality is they don’t kick off in anger until March 2023, so they have time to develop the roster. The patience comes in during the 2022 season, when teams will be looking to offload players for 2023 or players will be looking for new options. It’s something of a high-risk option to wait, but by doing so they could potentially pick up some players below market value.

Potential options could be Luke Brooks, Jack Wighton and Nick Cotric, who are already potentially on their way out of their respective clubs, which could be accelerated further with bad starts to 2022 for their teams.

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Further down the M1 could be a hunting ground too, with players like Tyson Gamble possibly not getting as much game time in 2022. He could make a move up the road. It will be an advantage to the Dolphins being close to the Titans and Broncos, as players will have the ability to stay in the same region but still play NRL, similar to the advantage Sydney teams have with player movement not affecting personal lives too much.

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The off-season has started slow in terms of signings for 2023, and hopefully the Dolphins can nail some signings soon so we can see what the roster will look like. My only suggestion to those players is not to get caught having a photo with Wayne in a Dolphins jersey!

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