The central message from the Dolphins NRL hierarchy, Head Coach Wayne Bennett and players at last night’s inaugural presentation evening was simple – this is just the beginning, we will be better in 2024.
About 550 invited guests attended the gala ball at Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre to celebrate a season the club and its supporters can be proud of.
See the photo gallery at the end of this story
It was also a chance to recognise players with the first of the club’s annual awards presented, and game stalwarts Jesse Bromwich and Jarrod Wallace honoured for 300 and 200 NRL games respectively.
Superstar points scorer Jamayne Isaako cleaned up, winning four of the top honours including the Arthur Beetson Medal as Player of the Year for the Dolphins. The medal was presented to an emotional Isaako by Beetson’s grandson Jack.
It follows news last week that the talented winger is just the seventh person in 116 years of rugby league history to claim both the NRL’s top try scorer and top point-scorer award in the one season. The last was Mal Meninga in 1990.
Isaako was also presented with the Player’s Player award last night, chosen by his teammates. It was a moment which brought tears to his eyes as he thanked his teammates for helping him achieve so much in a season which has seen him return to scintillating form.
He also won Most Consistent Player in a year where he did not miss a match, and the award for Best Back.
The GOAT Mark Nicholls was named Best Forward for his work on and off the field.
Isaiya Katoa was named the Rookie of the Year after making his NRL debut in the Dolphins’ round one victory over the Roosters and playing 22 matches.
Euan Aitken won the Academic Award for his continued study in a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) while managing his time as a full-time professional player.
The Hammer, Tabuai-Fidow, was named the Kings’ Fan Player of the Year.
Dolphins’ Game Development Manager Shane Morris was named Club Person of the Year for his work promoting the Dolphins and rugby league.
Morris and his team have travelled more than 25,000km this year, involving more than 30,000 participants in game development, and visiting more than 200 junior clubs and 241 schools.
‘We will be better’
Head Coach Wayne Bennett said he was proud of how the team and coaching staff had come together during preseason and this year.
“The think I love about the Dolphins … we are a football club. We’re not a corporate identity, although that’s an important part of what we do, we are a football club and that’s the reason we’ve been able to put together what we’ve done this year,” he said.
“We’re setting ourselves up to be club that we can be proud of, we’re proud of what we’ve done already but this is only the beginning.
“I’m very confident about our future.”
He described the players as a ‘pretty special group of men’ who had worked hard from preseason and came together as a tight unit following a three-day army camp.
“We went to that camp as individuals. We walked away from that camp as a team. That’s how we stayed all season,” he said.
They ignored outside noise from critics, who said the club hadn’t signed a marquee player, and built a foundation of hard work and determination.
“I’ve never been one to worry about what I don’t have. I knew we didn’t have everything we wanted but I knew we had a wonderful group of men,” Bennett said.
“I was going to make it work regardless.”
He revealed a promise he made to players to give them confidence and a chance to start the season as best they could.
“I told the team, after I picked the inaugural team for the first game that I would make no changes for the first month, regardless of what the scoreboards were going to be,” Bennett said.
They went on to win their first three games, before a narrow loss to the Broncos in the Battle for Brisbane in round four.
He said that strong start was the most important thing the club had ever achieved, besides winning an NRL licence.
“It took the monkey off our backs and allowed us to become the football club that we want to become,” Bennett said.
The high intensity of that start did take a toll, with injury testing the squad’s depth.
“We battled on and we were brave in every game that we played,” Bennett said.
“I can’t wait until next year. I look forward to it. We’ll be better … we’ll certainly have that year behind us and also build the things we need to build and be better.
“I can’t make you promises (about) next year because I would be lying to you, but I will make a commitment to you that we will be better than this year. If that means that we make the final eight, so be it but what it means to me is that we’re going to improve.
“We all know each other very well now and we know what to expect of each other. They know what I expect, and I expect their best.
“Our challenge now is to better than last year.”
See the photos below (click through)
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