The Dolphins to make the playoffs? Bennett’s boys’ side story to trap NRL’s most unlikely final
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The greatest trick the devil ever played was to convince the world he didn’t exist. And like that, he left.
So said Verbal Kint in The usual suspects. If you haven’t seen it, no spoilers but it’s pretty important to the overall plot.
Perhaps the greatest trick Wayne Bennett will ever pull off in his coaching career will be convincing the rugby league world that the Dolphins’ chances in the final never existed.
And like that, he left and started the season 3-0.
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The Dolphins stunned the NRL, tipsters, bookmakers, fans and anyone who knows the difference between rugby and the league by winning their first three games.
Considered a roster of journeymen, dying veterans and young prospects, they head to Friday night’s sold-out Suncorp Stadium sale against the top-ranked Broncos alongside their Brisbane rivals. Yes, Kevin Walters, these are your rivals.
Teams that win their first three games have an 82.2% chance of making the playoffs in the NRL era.
Of the 45 teams that have started their season 3-0 over the past 25 years, only eight have failed to reach the final, including the 2010 Storm side which were stripped of their points at mid -season after the discovery of a salary cap.
The 13 most recent teams that started with a hat-trick finished in the top eight by the end of the season.
Final positions for 3-0 teams in the NRL era
|2005||sea eagles||Qualified finalists|
|2002||the Sharks||Preliminary finalists|
|1999||the Sharks||Preliminary finalists|
* – as part of Storm’s salary cap sanctions in 2010, they were stripped of their competition points and their premiership in 2007.
Expansion teams have historically struggled in the first year, except for the anomaly that was the storm when they made the playoffs in 1998 after filling their roster with a few Super League sides disappeared.
A few years earlier, the Auckland Warriors had gone 13-9 but had two crucial competition points deducted for breaking the substitution rule in a game and the Western Reds finished 11-11 in their inaugural campaign, but both went just missed out on the team’s top eight of 20. contest.
The Dolphins’ modern task has been made much more difficult by Felise Kaufusi’s four-week ban for a late hit on Jackson Hastings.
Taken in isolation, this incident did not deserve a month on the sidelines. It was a late knock on a playmaker who passed the ball, but it wasn’t necessarily dangerous compared to some of the acts of violence that have resulted in a fine or a one-match ban over the past year. Nelson Asofa-Solomona alone provided three or four examples of worse incidents last season that did not result in a suspension under the simplified but weakened match review process.
However, Kaufusi is a repeat offender and the system was always in place to punish these players harder than cleanskins even before the point system was instituted. After Canterbury half-back Steve Mortimer had a series of mishaps in the 1980s, Judiciary chairman Jim Comans warned him that “rugby league will be just a memory for you” if he didn’t change his ways.
With Jeremy Marshall-King serving the second week of his two-game ban, the Dolphins’ depth is starting to be stretched, but Kodi Nikorima stepped in at hooker last week and held on as the newcomers outlasted the nebulous Knights at Newcastle.
Former Roosters and Dragons striker Poasa Faamausili enters Matchday 17 for Kaufusi with Ray Stone likely to be brought up in the starting squad.
Teenager five-eighth Isaiya Katoa is in doubt with an elbow injury with former Broncos point guard Anthony Milford set to get his first start of the year if the rising star is ruled out.
Kaufusi was integral to the Dolphins’ early success and how the new team handles the 24-game, 27-week grind will determine whether they can overcome preseason predictions and now achieve their 82% chance of qualifying for the final.
They passed their first test with flying colors when they upset the Roosters in the first round and did everything without being exceptional to account for the Raiders and Knights.
This Friday night will be perhaps and probably their biggest game of their inaugural year – taking on the Broncos for the first time in a high-profile clash between two undefeated teams at a sold-out Suncorp Stadium.
For Bennett, whenever he comes up against Brisbane during his various stints at St George Illawarra, Newcastle and South Sydney, it has always been a fashionable encounter, even if he has fanned the flames to a minimum himself. .
After being fired by the club when his second stint ended acrimoniously at the end of 2018, Bennett has consistently denied there is any additional significance to Broncos games.
But the camera doesn’t lie and footage of him dancing in the sheds with his delighted Rabbitohs players after beating Brisbane the following year gave viewers a glimpse of the truth behind Bennett’s steely facade.
This time around, Bennett conceded during his captain’s press conference at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday that the game means “a lot”.
When asked if this scenario was something he could have imagined in his wildest dreams, he replied, “No. I don’t dream much.
“I’m really happy with the game. I think it’s a wonderful promotion from the NRL to put the Dolphins in.
“To be here in week four and have the whole state and probably the whole country commit to this game, from that perspective, it’s exceptional.
“He captured the public’s imagination. It will certainly be the biggest crowd that will be there for a club game that I can remember.
“All the great long distance rivals in the world are the best of what makes sport great theatre…and I’m proud to be part of that.
“I’ve had great times and terrible times (at the site). It goes with the job. It’s a pretty special place and it will always be in my heart.
He declined to answer questions about the Broncos, or Kaufusi’s legal case for that matter – “I’m here as the coach of the Dolphins. If you want to ask me about dolphins, I’ll give you an answer,” he told a puzzled local reporter.