The Dolphins will be fielding their strongest team for this Sunday’s trial game at Redcliffe against the Titans and Prop Mark Nicholls admits they’re looking for a win in front a big home crowd.
While the 33-year-old veteran of the game is not getting carried away – it is just a trial game – he knows it will feel like round one for the locals.
“It’s funny. I live just up the road, a lot of the boys do, and we were talking about this just the other day. We’re starting to see more and more Dolphins’ shirts and hats getting around the local community,” Nicholls says.
“A couple of times I’ve had to catch an Uber to training … I’ve got my bag and the Uber driver turns around and asks me what I’m coming to Redcliffe for. I say, ‘work’. They say, ‘what do you do for work’ and I say, ‘I play footy for the new team’. They say, ‘I can’t wait. We’re all excited’.
“I’m expecting a full house and I’m expecting it to be pretty loud.”
Sunday’s game (6pm kick-off) follows a 22-22 draw against the Cowboys in Cairns last weekend and a 24-8 win against the Central Queensland Capras the previous week.
Nicholls says a win by their full-strength team would set them up nicely for round one against the Roosters on March 5 at Suncorp Stadium.
“I’m not going to lie. It would be nice to get the monkey off the back early but again it’s trials. I’ve played plenty of trials where we’ve won and won well and come out in round one and got flogged,” he explains.
“For us, it’s about working on the things we want to work on and see the things we’ve been working on at training in preseason and come out in a game in that match intensity. If we win, we win and we lose, we’ll take our lessons.”
The extended squad already has injury concerns with Harrison Graham sidelined with a suspected MCL injury and Edrick Lee limping from the training field this morning.
See the photo gallery from training at the end of this story
Top 17 will play
Sunday’s trial will, however, be fans’ first chance to see the starting 17 in action.
“(It’s) at our spiritual home. No doubt, we’ll be rolling out our strongest line-up. A few of the boys who didn’t get to play on the weekend were texting each other with itchy feet. It’s exciting and hopefully it will be nice to see us get a full house here,” Nicholls says.
“A few of the younger boys last week went to Wayne (Bennett) and asked if they could play and they got a ‘no’ straight away. As you get older, you realise that one trial is enough and it’s a long season.”
Nicholls says last Sunday’s trial game delivered positive signs about the squad’s defensive strategy.
“That’s a trademark of Wayne’s teams. Defence is a key to this game. If you can keep teams to 12 or 16, there’s enough players with individual brilliance to come up with a couple of tries here and there and you put yourself in every game if you can keep teams to two or three tries,” he explains.
“We’ve, no doubt, worked hard on it this preseason. We’ve had to as a new team, and combinations, but it was pleasing to see a lot of the guys on the weekend, who may or may not play first grade this year, they were turning up in defence and they had to do a lot of goal-line defence.
“The flipside of that was they put themselves under some pressure with some early errors and errors off kick-offs.
“Another thing Wayne’s big on is minimising those errors so you don’t have to do so much defence. That’s something we’ll be looking to work on this weekend for sure.”
When asked about the outcry over Bennett’s non-appearance in Cairns, Nicholls says he didn’t go to some trial games when he was Head Coach at Souths and that didn’t make the news.
“We had a lot of our starting 13 training yesterday morning. Kristian’s obviously going to take over as coach here. Trials are about giving guys opportunities,” he says.
“It was an opportunity for Kristian to take over the team and coach a lot of those young guys that are going to be the future of this club. Wayne was cracking the whip with us yesterday morning at 7am.”
So how has Bennett’s methods of building team culture at the Dolphins compared with his time at Souths?
“There are some similarities but it’s different. He came to Souths and were already a prelim team and he put his magic dust on us a little bit. We came close to obviously winning a Grand Final,” Nicholls says.
“Here, he had to start from scratch but I think he did it well. He started slow. The last two weeks, three weeks … our training’s really started to lift and we’re starting to feel like an NRL team.
“It’s exciting. We’re at the point where we get to see how far we have come. We’ve got a trial this week and then a massive game in round one.”
To see the team list, head here
Check out the photo gallery (click-through)
Photos by Dominika Lis
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