The Dolphins ‘acrobatic’ entry to NRL


Dolphins new NRL member Image: RugbyLeaguePlan ( Twitter)

As per the National Rugby League (NRL) CEO, Andrew Abdo, the upcoming professional rugby league team – The Dolphins’ (Australia) plans to build a functioning football department, a National Rugby League (NRL)-ready team and men’s and women’s player pathways were behind their successful bid to join the NRL in 2023.

The ‘NRL’ stated that announcing the move at the Rugby League Conference (RLC) recently, Abdo also confirmed the ‘Redcliffe’ part of the club’s name had been dropped and would not be replaced, with the franchise to simply be known as ‘The Dolphins’ in the NRL Telstra Premiership moving forward.

In 2023, the Redcliffe Dolphins will field a fully professional team in the National Rugby League (NRL), which will be known simply as The Dolphins. The Redcliffe Dolphins will continue to compete as they are in the Queensland Cup and other Queensland rugby league competitions.

The Dolphins will compete in the Australian National Rugby League (NRL) from the 2023 season. The Dolphins won a bid earlier this month to be the first expansion team in the National Rugby League since 2007. The club will join the competition in 2023.

The Redcliffe Dolphins are a semi-professional rugby league club based in Redcliffe, in Queensland, Australia. The Dolphins were founded in 1947, accepted into the Brisbane Rugby League premiership in 1960, and since 1996 have played in the Queensland Cup.

The National Rugby League (NRL), formed in 1998, is the pre-eminent rugby league club competition in Australia and New Zealand. It contains some clubs from the original Sydney club Rugby League competition, which had been running continuously since 1908. A single team from New Zealand also plays in the league.

Added Abdo, “We looked at five key criteria when determining which bid would be successful. The governance and risk, the approach to financial strength, the commercial strategy of the organization, football competitiveness, and then very importantly growth of the game – participation and pathways. Part of the conditions of awarding the licence to the Dolphins includes them spending and investing $2 million a year into participation and pathways both in terms of the men’s and the women’s game, indigenous pathways and making sure that we continue to grow the game in the important Northern corridor.”

He continued, “The population in the Northern corridor that includes Moreton Bay, Sunshine Coast and beyond is more than 800,000 people. That’s almost as big as Brisbane City. It’s forecast to grow to 1.1 million people by 2031.”

It was important the new franchise would be able to stand on its own two feet financially and bring new sponsors to the game rather than cannibalizing existing sponsors, Abdo observed.

The ‘NRL’ further stated that as for the club’s name, which will make it the second in the NRL along with the New Zealand Warriors not to have a geographical component in its title. On this, Abdo said it was about “owning the North”, growing outside the Brisbane region through Moreton Bay, the Sunshine Coast and beyond.

He further observed, “Redcliffe is no longer the name, they are quite deliberately calling themselves ‘The Dolphins’. This is about owning not just Brisbane and having a second Brisbane team but owning the North as well. Our research tells us we have a number of fans in this area and in Queensland that don’t currently support an NRL franchise. We’re a game of tribes. We live and breathe by the strength of our clubs and that sense of tribalism so adding a 17th tribe or team to our competition is a huge opportunity for us to acquire new fans, develop new talent and again foster the game in a really important market for us.”

Abdo did not comment on who would coach the team, although departing NRL team South Sydney Rabbitohs mentor Wayne Bennett is unattached and has been widely mooted as a likely candidate with reliable sources stating that a deal has already been struck.

Abdo also did not speculate on which NRL stars could join the new franchise given it cannot approach players before November 1st, but expressed confidence in both their ability to recruit to be NRL-ready for Round One 2023 as well as to develop their own players.

Growing the women’s game would also be important for the new franchise. There were no assurances of a Dolphins team joining the National Rugby League Women (NRLW) any time soon (although it is a possibility), rather it is important in the short term for the club to help grow female talent to boost the overall competition.

As for what it means for the NRL’s overall structure in 2023, Abdo confirmed the competition would move to 26 rounds with one by every week and every club having two byes for the season with one of those to fall during the State of Origin period.

This would result in a net increase of 12 games from 192 regular-season games to 204, and also provide more flexibility within the draw and further reduce the instances of five-day turnarounds.

The State of Origin series is an annual best-of-three rugby league series between two Australian State representative sides, the New South Wales Blues and the Queensland Maroons.

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