“Mate, you are just not going to believe how big this is going to be”.
That was Wayne Bennett to Dolphins chairman Bob Jones in October, 2021 after the game’s most successful coach had agreed to take charge of the NRL’s newest team.
As the foundation coach of the Broncos in 1988, Bennett was one of the few people who could understand what an impact the Dolphins would have – although it is unlikely he could have forecast a sold out Battle of Brisbane between the NRL’s top two teams in Round 4.
“I was probably trying to play it down in my own head by saying, ‘this is only another step from where we were [in the Queensland Cup]’,” Jones said.
“But I think it has exceeded even what Wayne thought.”
A local derby like no other
On the eve of the biggest game in the club’s 76-year history against co-competition leaders and Brisbane cross-town rivals at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night, Jones revealed how the Dolphins had almost joined the Telstra Premiership earlier.
Taking on the might of the Broncos as Brisbane’s second team has been an ambition of the Redcliffe-based club since 1994 when the Dolphins commissioned an international accounting firm to assess whether the move would be viable.
However, it wasn’t until club management received an SOS from NRL officials almost a decade ago that the Dolphins truly believed their dream could become reality.
Match Highlights: Dolphins v Roosters
“We never applied previously but we had a couple of meetings with the NRL – a couple we instigated and a little while back one of the teams was teetering so they flew myself and our CEO down to Sydney to see how we were positioned, and if we were ready,” Jones said.
“It wouldn’t have been expansion, so to speak, but to replace a team that was teetering.
They wanted us to be Plan B. They asked if we were serious, and we said we would be ready.
“They told us to make sure were in a position if needed and we did, but the team that was teetering got themselves out of trouble and they are going okay today, so that didn’t come to fruition.”
Whether the Dolphins would have been as prepared as they are now is unlikely.
Sponsorship, membership and merchandise sales are through the roof as Bennett’s men prove beyond doubt the market for a second team in Brisbane to rival the Broncos.
“I think there was always the room, it was just about being given the opportunity,” Jones said.
“People can talk about there not being enough players and all of that sort of stuff, and I know it is only early days but with the right coach and the right players it is amazing what can happen.
It has shocked a lot of people, including people within our own organisation.
"On all of those fronts – commercially, merchandise-wise, tickets and membership - it has solidified what we always thought, but it has more than met what we were thinking.
“It is nearly 30 years since we had KPMG look at affordability of being in what was then the NSWRL and whether we could afford a team. We were pretty keen on it back then, but it hasn’t been our sole focus.
“For probably the last 12 years or so, we said ‘let’s put ourselves in a position where if it does happen, we are ready to go and if it doesn’t happen, we can still be a strong outfit in the Queensland Cup’.”
After beating the Roosters, Raiders and Knights in their opening three matches, the Dolphins are yet to taste defeat but Friday night’s match against the Broncos is one that has been pencilled into their calendars since the NRL draw was released.
Match: Dolphins v Broncos
Round 4 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Brisbane briefly had two teams when the South Queensland Crushers were admitted to the premiership in 1995 but they never really had a chance against the might of the Broncos during the Super League war and folded at the end of 1997.
The Dolphins have the benefit of being an established club with a proud history of success, but beating the Broncos before a 52,000 Suncorp Stadium crowd would be their greatest triumph.
“It would be wonderful,” Jones said. “If you had said to me before the season started that after four rounds you have won three out of the four, I would have taken that but when you are a competitive person you want to win every time.
“It is only early days, and I am sure there are knockers who are waiting for us to trip up. We are excited and a bit nervous
“I think that the interest it has created has been a real shot in the arm not just for us, but across the game.”