Written off by plenty before a ball was even kicked in 2023, the Dolphins got off to a dream start in their maiden campaign but ultimately ran out of puff and missed the finals.
With their feet now properly under the desk, and having recruited well ahead of the new season, the expectation will be for the Dolphins to challenge for a place in the top eight this time around.
Here are the major talking points surrounding the Dolphins ahead of 2024.
Is the roster deep enough to go 27 rounds?
When injuries and suspensions hit last year the Dolphins ran out of NRL-ready troops, which was understandable given it was their first year in the top flight. But if they are to contend for a finals spot in 2024 they'll need to be able to better navigate those periods when the roster gets lean. Fielding nine debutants last season – the equal-most in the competition – should mean a bunch of their depth players are better equipped this time around, while they've also added representative talent with the signing of England international Herbie Farnworth and Maroons and Kangaroos prop Tom Flegler which will help.
Will some of the allure fade in year two?
Outside of what felt like near universal support for the Warriors last year, the Dolphins seemed to be adopted as a 'second team' for many fans outside of Queensland. They were staunchly supported by their own base, which was powerful long before they were accepted as the 17th team in the competition thanks to the rich history of the Dolphins' brand, and across the regular season they trailed only cross-town rivals the Broncos in terms of average home attendances. They were well represented at away venues too and the 'Phins Up' mantra followed them wherever they went. There was lots of love for the newbies last year and most within the game wanted to see them do well in their debut campaign, but will that fade in 2024?
Phins Up: Dolphins first win in colour
Who will be generation next for an aging pack?
The Dolphins' forward pack can tell you a thing or two about celebrating 30th birthdays. Plenty questioned if they were too old last year, but it wasn't the case, with their veteran group all enjoying strong campaigns that included players such as Mark Nicholls (33) and Jarrod Wallace (32) playing close to career-best seasons. However, that doesn't mean it's not a legitimate issue to raise again ahead of 2024 and the fact remains that the Phins will need to start focusing on the next group who are coming through. In new signing Tom Flegler they have a star forward who can take them into the future and it'll now be up to the likes 20-year-old prospects Mason Teague and Oryn Keeley to make a step up at NRL level.
Flegler eyeing leadership role in Dolphins move
King Wayne’s swan song
No matter what he decides to do beyond next year, 2024 will be Wayne Bennett's last season in charge of the Dolphins before his assistant Kristian Woolf takes over. The master coach showed his brilliance once again last season as helped an unfancied side make a roaring start, while he also managed to get value out of players like Jamayne Isaako and Kodi Nikorima who hadn't enjoyed the best form in recent years. While his role in getting things going at the club can already be somewhat ticked off as a success, at 73 Bennett remains as hungry as ever for wins and he will want to finish on a high. Can his men send him out on a dream note?
Can they build continuity in the spine?
They had a bunch of different players line up in the 1, 6, 7 and 9 jerseys last year, which is almost always a barrier to success in the NRL. In many cases those changes were forced – with halfback Sean O'Sullivan and first-choice hooker Jeremy Marshall-King restricted to 14 and 15 games respectively due to injuries – while others were tactical. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, arguably their best player in 2023, was moved from fullback to centre in the second half of the year, while rookie Isaiya Katoa and veterans Kodi Nikorima and Anthony Milford all shared time in the No.6 jersey. Building consistent and reliable combinations in the spine will be a key part of the Phins' second year in the NRL.
Milford the main man