The Dolphins’ marquee signing stocks are running thin with Knights superstar Kayln Ponga set to re-sign and Storm duo Harry Grant and Jahrome Hughes penning million-dollar extensions.
All roads now lead to one man for Wayne Bennett to sign – Cameron Munster.
The Storm playmaker will reportedly have to take a significant haircut to stay in the Melbourne spine … but has another lucrative option that is looking more and more likely to happen by the day.
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The Dolphins will likely have to offer Munster a multimillion-dollar deal to lure him away from the NRL juggernaut that is the Storm. But the catch is they will have to wait until the 2024 season – after his current Storm contract expires.
It’s understood Bennett is willing to wait, but it also means the Dolphins could play their inaugural season without a marquee man.
That could be a risk worth taking given Munster is regarded the best five-eighth in the competition – and worth the wait.
But to make it worthwhile, Bennett will need to build the rest of his roster wisely to still be competitive in 2023 without Munster in the No.6 jersey.
The Dolphins have already started building an impressive pack with Bromwich brothers, Felise Kaufusi, Mark Nicholls and Ray Stone all signing on.
They’ve also lured Jamayne Isaako across and landed highly-rated Penrith teen Isaiya Katoa as an option at halfback and 21-year-old rugby product Valynce Te Whare for the centers.
But there’s still so many holes to fill – and 22 spots left in their Top 30.
So let’s take stock of some of the options that Bennett and his recruitment committee have to build a young and experienced spine ready for Munster to slot in.
FULLBACK: Reece Walsh
The Warriors young gun is a genuine option for the Dolphins.
Hailing from Queensland, Walsh was stolen by the New Zealand side from the Broncos with his current contract running out in 2024.
But a precedent set by the Warriors board could see the 19-year-old released.
Center Euan Aitken was released from the final year of his contract, with the Warriors set to return home to Auckland in 2024, meaning Walsh could soon follow if he doesn’t want to relocate over the Tasman.
At such a young age, Walsh represents a rare opportunity for the 17th club, being able to build around a star fullback for years to come – and Bennett has a knack of nurturing young guns into fine players.
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HOOKER: Sam Verrills
While the young Roosters hooker is contracted until the end of the 2024 season, Brandon Smith’s arrival next season could spell the end for Verrills time at the Tri-colors.
Smith will be wanting to be an 80-minute hooker at the Roosters after sharing the load with Harry Grant for multiple seasons. That means Verrills, who is a talented player in his own right, will inevitably slot down the pecking order.
The 23-year-old premiership winner will have to request a release from his contract to join up with the Dolphins and the opportunity to become part of a young and talented spine ready to lead the NRL’s newest club forward could convince him to make that call .
PROP: Matt Lodge
The Dolphins have already signed some experienced forwards but there’s an opportunity for Bennett and Lodge to reunite.
Lodge has a player option for the 2023 season and is reportedly set to knock back a lucrative extension from the Warriors.
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While he is said to want a return to Sydney according to The Daily Telegraph’s David Riccio, Lodge could be a great pick-up for Bennett, who has been credited as saving the boom forward’s career in the past.
CENTER: Euan Aitken
Aitken has opted out of his current Warriors contract for the 2023 season, not wanting to make the move across the Tasman for family reasons.
Speculation was always going to arise surrounding Aitken, having called Redcliffe, the Warriors makeshift base, home for two seasons.
The 26-year-old has made a successful shift from the backrow to the centers after linking up with the Warriors from the Dragons in 2020.
Aitken is the perfect Bennett style player, hard working, strong and someone who will do their best to do exactly what they are told.
Aitken will be available for the Dolphins to sign for their inaugural season in 2023.