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Icon’s grim warning to ageing Dolphins recruits

The Dolphinswill finally make a long-awaited NRL debut on Sunday.

Three years since the process begun, and after about 18 months of build-up, Wayne Bennett‘s side will introduce themselves to the rugby league community against the Roosters at Suncorp Stadium.

Just like the Gold Coast Titans 16 years before them, the Dolphins aren’t expected by many to challenge for the top eight, let alone a premiership, in their first year.

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But it all has to start somewhere.

The road back to the top level has been bumpy. In 2004, three years before their eventual debut as the Titans, Gold Coast revealed plans to enter the NRL as the Dolphins, after a naming competition settled on the moniker as a way to attract more women and children to the game.

After catching wind of the plans, Redcliffe chairman Bob Jones immediately consulted with lawyers and sought an injunction the next day.

It never got to court, and a swathe of Gold Coast Dolphins merchandise that had already been produced had to be destroyed.

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Fast forward to the bidding process in 2020, and they beat bids from the Firehawks and Jets to become the fourth Queensland team in the competition. 

But once the decision was announced, they had only about 15 months to build a squad of 30.

The next hurdle was to fight public backlash when, in a bid to promote a wider fan base beyond south-east Queensland, they decided to enter the competition simply as the Dolphins – controversially snubbing Redcliffe and Moreton Bay from the official title.

But they’ve done it. 

Now they’re here, Cowboys premiership great Johnathan Thurston said a key goal for the early part of the season must be to find their identity.

The three-part Stan Original Documentary Series Dawn of the Dolphins’ premieres weekly from March 6, only on Stan.

“The Redcliffe Dolphins have been around for a lot of years and they’ve had a lot of great players come through – Arthur Beetson, Petero Civoniceva and the likes,” he told Wide World of Sports at Nine’s NRL launch in Brisbane.

“Whilst they’ve got an identity in that regard, this is a whole different ball game.

“They’ve gotta find out who they are and what they stand for, and if they can play with some passion and play with a lot of heart, then they’re going to win their fans over.

“They’ve moved up to doing what they’ve always wanted and dreamed of doing – and that’s playing in the NRL.”

But despite the allure of having Bennett as coach, they were unable to secure a marquee player.

Cameron Munster looked as though he was going to be that man, before he eventually decided to stay with the Storm despite a reported $1.4million a year offer to head north.

Manly legend Paul Vautin said he couldn’t blame Munster staying in Melbourne.

“Money’s not everything. You go, ‘oh, they’ve offered me $1.4 (million), but we’re gonna win three games’,” he told Wide World of Sports.

“I’m not surprised he stayed – he’s with a great club and has won competitions with them. So why would he take the chance just for the sake of money, when he’s flying anyway.”

The three-part Stan Original Documentary Series Dawn of the Dolphins’ premieres weekly from March 6, only on Stan.

Vautin said while he had concerns over the Dolphins pack, Bennett was far and away the best man for the job.

Success, however, will still take time.

“They’ve brought a lot of forwards who are early to mid-30s, and I know from experience when you get to 31, 32, your game can just go like that,” he said.

“It happened to me … the second year at the Roosters I played really well and they wanted me to play on. Jack (Gibson) said ‘I want you to sign another year’, I said give me three weeks. 

“At the end of that three weeks, I could hardly make a tackle, and mentally I was gone. I didn’t want to play anymore.

“It’s going to take them four or five or six years, like it did Canberra, and like it did Illawarra, to find their niche and get going and finally get a team. 

“Wayne’s got a big job, a tricky job trying to manage all that, but they couldn’t have a better person in charge, because he’s done this a few times.”

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