South Sydney have named a top squad of 30 but are unlikely to fill the development list because it would be folly to outlay the mandatory $70,000 on players not up to standard.
The Dolphins are seemingly swimming in circles, unable to find more players beyond the 23 they signed from other NRL clubs.
The Knights’ Dominic Young, a 21-year-old winger who played for England in the World Cup, has rejected offers from have-not clubs the Knights, Dolphins and Titans to join a strong club, the Roosters, in 2024.
Apart from the three top forwards the Dolphins signed from the Storm, many of the players who have signed with Redcliffe or other have-not clubs, such as the Dragons, define the term journeyman.
The playing pool is further diluted by the annual retirement of players plus those moving to England’s Super League.
Broncos coach, Kevin Walters says, “We are losing the middle-tier players to Super League, the ones who are not on big money and go for the life experience.”
Fortunately, replacement players in the tier 2 State Cup competitions had a full season in 2022, following the previous Covid-19 interrupted seasons.
Many players called up to the NRL last year were seriously short of experience and deficient in skill. The Storm won six of their first seven games and then, when injury struck, lost nine of the next 18.
The top 30 list at some clubs would have a longer tail than a decade ago.
West Tigers coach Tim Sheens, while conceding he has been in England these past few years, is not as pessimistic about the NRL’s future playing stocks, saying, “There are some very talented young kids coming through.
“But there will be a watering-down of experience with the Dolphins coming in.”
He pointed to the Titans taking Scott Prince off the West Tigers in the Gold Coast club’s inaugural season of 2007. “That was hard to get over,” he said.
Prince, a halfback and the Wests Tigers’ 2005 premiership captain and Clive Churchill medallist, left for a then record fee.
Top halfbacks are always in demand but the current shortage is reflected in the Dolphins paying a reported $500,000 for a third-stringer at Penrith, Isaiyah Katoa.
Katoa, who has just turned 19, dropped the ball from the kick-off in the Dolphins’ first ever pre-season game, but then set up two tries.
He was born in New Zealand, home of the rarest and smallest of the Dolphins species, the Hector’s Dolphin.
If Katoa teases and tortures a weakened opposition mid-season with tries, he may well earn his half million dollars, along with the nickname Hector.
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