The NRL has handed the Dolphins a licence to enter the competition in 2023, and now the southern Queensland club must begin preparations to compete in the world’s top league.
That means assembling 30 top-class players to form a squad from which a 17-man team can be picked before Round 1… in about 17 months’ time.
Wayne Bennett is expected to be announced as their inaugural coach, and Dolphins chairman Bob Jones all but revealed he will hand full responsibility of the roster and recruitment to the man with the clipboard.
Jones was asked specifically who he wanted to sign to pull on the Dolphins jersey.
« Probably anyone in the Test team, » Jones said.
« And if we can get the rest of the Test team… that would be wonderful.
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« I really don’t know who’s available, there’s lots of wonderful players in the competition. We really haven’t thought that far ahead. »
While there hasn’t been many rugby league Test matches in recent times, there is a large number of international class players who Jones would no doubt love to get his hands on.
The Dolphins can begin negotiating with players from November 1, but will only be allowed to approach off-contract players – ones whose current deals expire at the end of October next year.
It’s believed there are 157 NRL players on the market at the end of this month. Here’s the best of them.
The Melbourne prop has had an extraordinary two years with the Storm, installing himself as one of the best forwards in the game and earning a State of Origin jersey for Queensland in the process.
Earlier this month rugby league Immortal Andrew Johns told Wide World of Sports he would make Welch a priority signing if he was running the Dolphins, and would name him their inaugural captain.
Welch has become a leader at Melbourne and would provide the Dolphins with a current Maroons representative and a ready-made skipper.
Crichton has established himself as arguably the best backrower in the NRL, jumping into the void left by the retired Boyd Cordner at the Roosters this year.
He signed a short-term contract extension with the Chooks and rumours persist he may leave rugby league at the end of next year to pursue an opportunity of representing the Wallabies at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
But regardless of whether that’s his plan or not, Crichton can be approached by NRL clubs from November 1 and is likely to have several suitors lining up, the Dolphins included.
Crichton’s teammate at Bondi, Manu is among the best few centres in the game at the moment and will command a high price on his next deal.
He’s highly valuable to any team given his ability to play centre, fullback, and five-eighth with equal class, as shown for the Roosters this year.
Like Crichton, though, Manu has attracted interest from rugby union and has the chance to potentially play for the All Blacks in 2023.
The South Sydney playmaker was arguably the best five-eighth in the NRL this year, and while he hasn’t played a Test yet he has represented the NSW Blues and Indigenous All Stars on multiple occasions.
Walker’s halves partner, Adam Reynolds, has left the burrow and the former is yet to commit to the cardinal and myrtle beyond next season.
He also formed a close bond with Wayne Bennett at the Bunnies, and Bennett will be coaching the Dolphins in their inaugural season.
The Melbourne wrecking ball was named the Hooker of the Year this season and is hot property on the NRL market, albeit that his value may have taken a hit due to his involvement in the recent white powder scandal.
He’s already attracted plenty of interest from rival clubs but the Storm are hoping to hold onto the nuggety No.9, despite also having Harry Grant on their books, who some consider the best young rake in the game.
While Smith has played as Melbourne’s hooker this year, he is equally effective as a small middle forward, and can play prop or lock.
Speaking of hookers, Reed Mahoney is on the market and the Parramatta rake is a Queenslander, which adds to the appeal of a move north.
He was unlucky not to make his Maroons debut this year but he’s not far behind Harry Grant and Brandon Smith in terms of being the best young No.9 in the game.
The Penrith and Fiji backrower is built in the mould of Titans beast David Fifita, and has the ability to break a game open with one big play.
Kikau has already been the subject of speculation in recent months, with news the Dragons are keen to lure him away from the foot of the mountains.
The salary cap squeeze at Penrith is likely to cost the club a number of quality players, and Kikau may be looking for a new home before too long.
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Another hooker on this list but one that brings a wealth of experience and leadership, unlike a couple of the younger guys.
Hodgson is an England Test player and was considered the second best rake in the game behind only Cameron Smith just a couple of short years ago.
His stocks fell slightly this year after internal drama at Canberra, when he relinquished the captaincy and was then the subject of rumours of a rift with coach Ricky Stuart.
The Broncos were interested in acquiring his services if he left the Raiders, but he could well end up just up the road at Redcliffe.
The Parramatta captain is loved by Eels fans and is part of the furniture at the blue and gold club.
But for the Dolphins he would be a quality fullback-utility, who brings leadership and potential captaincy credentials to the sunshine state in a ready-made package.
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Ponga’s contract is reported to have player options for seasons 2023 and 2024 in it, meaning he could effectively leave the Knights at the end of next year if he wanted to.
Like others on this list, rugby union is chasing Ponga but the classy fullback has stated he doesn’t want to leave the Hunter without winning a premiership for Newcastle.
He started his NRL career at the Cowboys and is a Maroons representative, so a Dolphins move would be a homecoming of sorts.
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