From fringe forward to fan favourite — cult hero Mark Nicholls is set to reunite with former coach Wayne Bennett at the Dolphins in 2023 and credited him as the man that brings out his best.
Before joining South Sydney under the seven-time Premiership-winning coach, Nicholls struggled to break into the NRL scene, playing just 27 games in five seasons at the Raiders and then Storm.
But after Bennett handed Nicholls the confidence he needed to call himself an NRL player, a workhorse prop was unleashed.
Four finals series and 128 first-grade games later, the late bloomer will head north to the sunshine state as an experienced leader for the Dolphins, and eager to repay the confidence shown in him by the veteran mentor.
Bennett lures Nicholls to Dolphins in 2023
“I was at Souths the whole time Wayne was there so I can’t wait to get back with him,” Nicholls said earlier this year.
“Every time I talk about him in front of my wife, she gets a bit jealous.
“But he has that influence on a lot of his past players, so many blokes talk about how much they love Wayne and how he is a little bit of a father figure.
“I’m not sure what he’s been doing the last nine months but I’m sure he can’t wait to get back into it.”
The 32-year-old, often referred to as the “GOAT” by his former Souths teammates, said he was shown plenty of faith by Bennett when he joined the club in 2018, who even promoted him to captain twice during their 2021 Grand Final run.
One for the purists
“In terms of my career, it’s hard to put into words, but until I got coached by Wayne, I was pretty much a fringe NRL player,” he said.
“I guess he gave me the confidence and belief to become a full time NRL player so for that I’ll always have a soft spot for old Wayne.”
Melbourne trio Jesse Bromwich, Kenny Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi have also pledged a future to the Dolphins, with the Leeton product excited to reunite with his former Storm teammates. With Nicholls and Bromwich stepping onto the field as 33-year-olds next year, and Kaufusi a 30-year-old, the veterans will no doubt be rolling their sleeves up to drive the standards Bennett will demand in their inaugural year.
“I spent two years at Melbourne before I came to Souths so I obviously know the Bromwich boys well and know what they bring to a footy team,” Nicholls said.
“So it’s exciting to get back and play with them, because I didn’t play much first grade at the time as I was in reserve grade for most of my time down there.
“They’re obviously great players and there’s so much to be excited about reuniting with them at a foundation club.
Why Kaufusi joined the Dolphins
"Being the first guys to wear the jersey and to be able to set some standards and set the culture from day one, it’s all very exciting.”
The father-of-two said the decision to head north was made easier after his family had a taste of South East Queensland last year and the move comes as a good opportunity for his wife Perrie and two daughters to set up for life after football.
“We got a little bit of a taste of it last year when we moved up to southeast Queensland to live in the COVID bubble,” he said.
“My wife and daughter came up with me and we really loved it so that definitely helped with the decision.
“This year we’ve added another daughter to the clan, so we’ll have another one going up with us now as well.
“As a family, I think the move up there good be a really good opportunity.”