NRL fans are nervously hoping their team’s star players won’t be snapped up by the league’s newest franchise before they join the competition.
Supercoach Wayne Bennett will oversee the Redcliffe-based Dolphins, in northern Brisbane, and they have cash to splash.
With players not contracted beyond 2022 permitted to negotiate with rival NRL clubs – including the Dolphins – from November 1 this year, the feeding frenzy on the open market will soon begin.
Melbourne five-eighth Cameron Munster, teammate Harry Grant, and Newcastle Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga are sure to attract the most attention.
Bennett could also target other high profile off-contract stars such as Parramatta Eels hooker Reed Mahoney and Storm prop Christian Welch.
Melbourne Storm five-eighth Cameron Munster is off contract in 2022 – and could become the face of the NRL’s newest franchise in Brisbane the Dolphins
Munster’s teammate at Melbourne Harry Grant is also looming as a marquee option for the Dolphins
Grant, 23, looms as the likely marquee signing for the Dolphins due to his cleanskin image and likely status as the long-term option at dummy-half for Queensland.
Munster, a genuine match-winner on his day but also a larrikin, is another high profile option for Bennett, who has insisted he ‘doesn’t want to sign choir boys’.
However, he could be considered a risk as the face of the club due to his devil may care attitude at times off the field.
He pledged to curb his alcohol consumption, so much so he promised to be sober in 2022.
But after the ‘white powder’ scandal with Brandon Smith and Chris Lewis in a hotel room in Brisbane, Munster’s cards may be marked in the eyes of many – particularly with some cashed-up new sponsors.
Ponga, while brilliant on his day, is injury-prone and could eventually defect to rugby union with the All Blacks.
He is also said to be happy living and playing in the Hunter region.
Dynamic Newcastle Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga is originally from the Sunshine State and may fancy a new challenge with the Dolphins
Other possible players on Bennett’s radar include Parramatta fullback Clint Gutherson, South Sydney Rabbitohs playmaker Cody Walker, Warriors front-rower Matt Lodge and Gold Coast Titans lock Tino Fa’asuamaleaui.
Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans could also be a option at halfback, despite signing a ‘lifetime’ deal with the Sea Eagles in 2015.
The 32-year-old is a Redcliffe junior and he may fancy a NRL swansong where it all began in the Sunshine State.
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo is confident the Dolphins will hit the ground running in Brisbane, as the code also considers further long term expansion.
‘We now have genuinely four Queensland teams, that opens up 12 rivalry matches for us, that opens up an opportunity for rivalry with (Gold Coast) Titans and (North Queensland) Cowboys, not just the (Brisbane) Broncos,’ he said.
‘Appealing to a much broader fan base is our focus.’
Perth and even a team from Papua New Guinea, where rugby league is akin to religion, are possible franchise options for 2024 and beyond.
Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans could also be a option for the Dolphins at halfback, despite signing a ‘lifetime’ deal with the Sea Eagles in 2015 – he also grew up around Redcliffe
At the official announcement earlier this month, it was revealed the team will be known solely as the Dolphins and not the Brisbane or Redcliffe Dolphins.
Home games will be played primarily at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium – the Broncos’ home ground – but also as far north as the Sunshine Coast and at their training base in Redcliffe in Brisbane’s north-east.
The Australian Rugby League Commission approved the Dolphins’ bid over other expansion hopefuls the Brisbane Firehawks and Brisbane Jets.
ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys said it was a landmark moment in the game’s history and would continue the push to grow the game in Queensland.
‘On behalf of the Commission I would like to congratulate the Dolphins on being granted the 17th (NRL club) licence,’ he said.
‘I would also like to acknowledge and thank the other bid teams for the work they put into their submissions. All three bids were of the highest calibre and highlight the strength of rugby league in Queensland.’
V’landys said expanding the game was key to the long-term growth of the sport, with more fans, participants and commercial investment.
The Dolphins are the NRL’s first expansion side since Gold Coast in 2007 and the 34th club in the history of the game.
The Dolphins will play some games at their training base (pictured) at Redcliffe in north-east Brisbane but most will take place at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium