Magic win for Wayne, magic debut for Val

Published 10:05pm 6 May 2023

Magic win for Wayne, magic debut for Val
Words by Kylie Knight

Magic Round delivered a milestone win for Dolphins NRL Head Coach Wayne Bennett and two tries to a fan favourite on debut in front of a packed Suncorp Stadium tonight.

The round, likened to a festival of rugby league, was another first for the Dolphins on the day their Head Coach Wayne Bennett celebrated 900 games in the top grade.

The newcomers were again underdogs as they ran out on to the field to face the Sharks, who were second on the ladder before the game.

But the Dolphins were white hot from kick-off in stark contrast to their form in the past two rounds.

They were committed in defence and dangerous in attack, and seemed to take their more fancied opponents by surprise.

It was also a strong start for NRL debutant Valynce Te Whare who scored in the 17th minute and again in the 51st minute.

The fan favourite, whose family flew over from New Zealand to watch him play, has no doubt added to his cult following beyond the Redcliffe peninsula.

It was not the Sharks’ night with poor defence and errors cruelling any attempts in attack.

The Dolphins won the game 36-16.

Isaiya Katoa opened the ledger in the fifth minute, set up nicely by Jeremy Marshall-King. There were also tries to Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (16th minute), Connelly Lemuelu (26th minute) and Tesi Niu (31st minute).

Euan Aitken was outstanding in the first half before a hamstring injury forced him out of the game.

Other standouts were Kodi Nikorima, Anthony Milford and Felise Kaufusi.

Sharks Head Coach Craig Fitzgibbon said the Dolphins were a more committed opponent from kick-off.

“Tonight meant more to them than it did to us,” he said.

The Sharks’ Nicho Hynes said they were beaten on effort and attitude which was ‘not good enough’.

When asked about Te Whare’s performance, Nicho said his teammates found him hard to stop.

“He looked like he was hard to handle. He played well and the team played well for him. They had that energy for him and I guess for Wayne too. They played with that energy that we couldn’t match,” he said.

Magic win for Wayne, magic debut for Val

What did Wayne say?

So, did Wayne enjoy the game despite all the talk about him this week?

“I did enjoy that. It was good to see us out in front and not playing from behind,” he said after the game.

Bennett said they had a constructive team meeting during the week to address two weeks of poor starts, which paid off.

“The boys bought into it. We played two halves tonight which we haven’t played since about round five or round four,” he said.

The Super Coach was happy with how his debutant played but says “he can be better”.

“(There’s still) a lot of improvement in him but it wasn’t a bad start for someone in his first NRL game,” he said.

“I think what we’re going to find with Val is that he’s a big match player … it’s part of his DNA.”

Tonight’s performance by Bennett’s Dolphins was another display of tenacity, determination and how tight they are as a group.

“We had three quality top forwards out tonight, a couple of good backs missing … you just give guys a jersey … these guys (Kaufusi and Co.) have a huge influence on them out there and they’re getting the job done. It’s quite remarkable actually. It’s a credit to them,” Bennett said.

“No-one minds where they’re playing. They just want to play and be part of it.”

When Moreton Daily asked him to sum up the character of this team, he was not keen to elaborate.

“It’s not time to sum it up yet. Talk to me around round 24,” he said.

Felise Kaufusi said he was proud to captain the side tonight, standing in for injured Jesse Bromwich (hamstring).

When asked if there was a sense of occasion about the game, Felise Kaufusi said he didn’t think there was.

“Our game plan was pretty simple … we just wanted to start well. He never made it about himself. (We were) just happy to get the result at the end of the day,” he said.

Earlier he told FOX: “He (Bennett) didn’t want to make a fuss about it. We wanted to give him a big effort and we’re happy to get the win”.

Kaufusi said each player was trying to make a difference, not make up the numbers.

“There’s a lot of trust there … that’s how it’s working. It doesn’t work any other way,” Bennett added.

Check out the photo gallery (click through)

Photos by Dominika Lis

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