Dolphins locked in as 17th NRL team

Sports

VETERAN National Rugby League (NRL) coach Wayne Bennett has agreed to coach the Dolphins on a potential three-year deal from 2023.
The Sydney Morning Herald revealed that Bennett had agreed to terms with the NRL’s newest club to lead the franchise when they enter the competition in two years.
He has hired veteran agent Sam Ayoub to strike the deal, with Bennett expected to put pen to paper in the coming days.
It is understood Bennett is guaranteed three years with a potential option for a fourth.
He is expected to be announced this week and begin his time at the Dolphins from Nov 1.
That is the same day the Dolphins are free to sign players for 2023. Bennett’s connection to Ayoub will concern Parramatta officials, who are trying to retain three of his clients in Clint Gutherson, Reed Mahoney and Junior Paulo.
South Sydney officials will also be concerned about Bennett’s relationship with Cody Walker, another name free to hit the open market at the start of next month. Bennett’s three-year deal will see him coach for 38 seasons at the top grade.
The NRL yesterday officially handed its 17th licence to the Redcliffe-based Dolphins, who pipped the Jets and Firehawks for inclusion in an expanded competition.
The Australian Rugby League Commission met yesterday morning to sign off on the decision, which will result in the Dolphins becoming the first team added to the league since the Gold Coast Titans were introduced in 2007.
The announcement was made in time for the Dolphins to become a major player in the transfer market as a slew of free agents prepare to test their value from Nov 1.
The prospective new franchises had to prove that they could immediately stand on their own from the outset without the financial support the Australian Football League gave to its expansion clubs.
The Dolphins satisfied a number of criteria, including being able to produce a bank cheque of A$50 million (about K129 million) over the course of the next five years to prove they were sustainable.
They also demonstrated they could increase interest and participation in rugby league without adversely affecting the Broncos, Cowboys or Titans.
Their catchment area — which runs from northern Brisbane, through Moreton Bay and linking to the Sunshine Coast — has more than 10,000 registered junior players.
The Dolphins’ junior club alone has 50 teams and 800 registered players in an area that is predicted to further expand.
One of Bennett’s first tasks is to compile a squad that will be competitive from the moment it joins the competition in 2023.
Other players yet to commit to their existing clubs for that season include Dylan Brown, Viliame Kikau, Clint Gutherson, Brandon Smith, Kalyn Ponga, Anthony Milford and Dylan Edwards.
The expanded 17-team competition will see the NRL Telstra Premiership become a 26-round competition with every team continuing to play 24 games.
All teams will receive two byes during the season with the total number of regular-season games increasing from 192 to 204.
Commission chairman Peter V’landys said the Commission’s decision was a landmark moment in the game’s history.
He said expanding the game in Queensland was vital to the long-term growth of the sport.
“Rugby league is part of Queensland’s DNA and to have four teams based in Queensland will further strengthen our game as the No.1 sport in the state,” he said.
“The key to long-term success is growth.
“By growing the NRL Telstra Premiership, we create more fans, encourage more participants and increase commercial investment in rugby league.
“Expansion is also a really important part of our participation strategy.
“It will be a condition of the licence that the Dolphins spend A$2 million (K5 million) every year on participation and growing the women’s game in south-east Queensland.”
V’landys said the commission approved the expanded competition because it added value to the competition “which will benefit all existing clubs”.
“Our priority as a commission was firstly to ensure all 16 clubs came through the pandemic financially secure and we have achieved that,” he said.
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said the expanded competition would create more opportunities for the rugby league ecosystem.
“There will be more opportunities for our players in 2023, more games of rugby league to watch for our fans and more investment in pathways for our grassroots participants,” he said.
“It’s also an excellent outcome for our partners and sponsors who have additional exposure from 2023.” – SMH

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