2023 NRL: Dolphins Season Review

Shannon Meyer reviews the 2023 Season of the Dolphins where they finished 13th on the ladder in their first season in the NRL.

Club Stats

Wins: 9
Losses: 15
Most Tries: 24, Jamayne Isaako
Most Points: 244, Jamayne Isaako
Club Player of the Year: Jamayne Isaako (also Dally M Winger of the Year)

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Dolphins surprise all in 2023

Finishing 13th wouldn’t normally be seen as a positive, but it was a truly magnificent result all things considered for the Dolphins’ first season in the NRL.

Many, many pundits, and casual observers had the Dolphins to finish dead last, and they couldn’t be blamed as the squad looked thin on star power, experience and depth.

They did have arguably the greatest rugby league coach ever in Wayne Bennett. Of course, he isn’t a miracle worker, and the Dolphins did struggle now and again. However, their relentless style and effort kept them in a lot of games which was highlighted by their five losses by six points or less.

The most pleasing thing of the Dolphins first season was how they turned so many player’s fortunes around.

Jamayne Isaako was certainly one, relegated to the Tweed Heads Seagulls Queensland Cup team in 2022, but by the end of 2023 had scored the most points in the NRL, and second most tries.

Kodi Nikorima was another player to shine in 2023. His form becoming a bit of a headache at times with reshuffling required to ensure he was in the team.

They were just a few of a number of signings for the Dolphins’ first season that were initially seemed underwhelming, but by season’s end had proved masterstrokes.

Like Ray Stone, who became a fan favourite with his hard-as-a-rock style. Jarrod Wallace was magnificent at times, and a genuine game breaker from the bench in certain games. Mark Nicholls toiled as hard as ever, Connelly Lemuelu stocks rose, Euan Aitken was so reliable and in Sean O’Sullivan and Isaiya Katoa the Dolphins have halves for the long term.

Very few of these players were seen as gold star signing, but combined did the job so well in 2023 for the Dolphins.

Then there’s players like Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Tom Gilbert and Jeremy Marshall-King who took their games to the next level in 2023 to become stars. Two of them found their way into the first State of Origin game for Queensland, and “the Hammer” going on to represent Australia.

Highlights of the season have to begin with their 28-18 opening round defeat of the highly fancied Roosters at Suncorp Stadium where Felise Kaufusi was a one man wrecking ball, and the term Phins Up shot to prominence.

Sadly Kaufusi was to spend most of the first half of the season on suspension, but it was a great crowd, and saw glimpses of greatness from season stars Tabuai-Fidow, Isaako and Jeremy Marshall-King.

The Dolphins won their first three games, going into the first local derby with the Broncos undefeated like their opponents, and they were super competitive too, with a late try spoiling the fun.

O’Sullivan sustained a long term injury which hurt the Dolphins, almost as much as Tom Gilbert’s season ending injury during Origin 1 did.

Their Magic Round win over the Sharks was notable too, as Valynce Te Whare (aka Big Val) starred with two tries on debut. While the centre’s season ran out of puff, it was a decent first season of NRL.

A final highlight of the season was the Dolphins record breaking come-from-behind win over the Titans in round 8, coming back from 26-0 to win 28-26.

As the season went on, depth became a problem, and they were on the receiving end of a few floggings in the second half of the season: losing by a combined 90 points across three games at one stage.

The Dolphins won just two of the last 12 games, three of those ten losses were by one or two points. The last round win over the Warriors was a just reward for the loyal Dolphins fans who stuck by the team all season.

It’s onwards and upwards for the Dolphins in 2024, who have one final season with Wayne Bennett before Kristian Woolf takes over.

They have their solid core of 2023 warriors who improved so much, and have recruited quite well in areas where they needed it most with Herbie Farnworth, Tom Flegler and Jake Averillo. Looking every chance of avoiding second season syndrome.

Key Player Stats

Most Try Assists: 18, Kodi Nikorima
Most Line-breaks: 30, Jamayne Isaako
Most Run Metres: 3,994, Jamayne Isaako
Most Post Contact Metres: 1,119, Jamayne Isaako
Most Tackles: 667, Kennearth Bromwich
Most Errors: 31, Jamayne Isaako

Jamayne Isaako was the man for key stats as he topped the point scoring for the entire 2023 NRL season, and his 24 tries fell one short of topping the try scoring for the season as well.

As for the other player or team stats, the Dolphins as you expect were towards the bottom, with plenty of room for improvements, but there are a few points of interest below.

The Dolphins’ 15 line breaks in their last game of the season against a well-rested Warriors was the second most in a single game for 2023.

Dolphins had the equal most players sent to the sin bin in 2023 with 10 visits. They had 23 players on report for 2023, which was the second highest total.

How the Dolphins fared against other new NRL teams

The Dolphins did OK when judged against the most recent new teams. Their points per game in 2023 was third best, although the points conceded was the worst. Their win percentage was better than the last Brisbane based team to join the NRL in the Crushers.

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