The man who will succeed Wayne Bennett as Dolphins NRL Head Coach in 2025 is proud of what the squad achieved in their inaugural season and the culture they are helping to create.
Kristian Woolf spoke to Moreton Daily about the Dolphins’ historic first year, season 2024 and the players who will soon head to Redcliffe.
“I think we did a lot of good things … the way we established things in the preseason, established the start of the season … what we want to look like as a team, who we want to be as a team. I think we did a really good job of that and did a good job of that for long parts of the season,” Woolf said.
“There were certainly a few speed bumps along the way and a few things we’d like to get better. We didn’t finish quite as high or quite as well as we would have liked, particularly when you look at the way that we started the season.
“I think when you look back … some of the occasions and some of the things that we were able to achieve we can be really proud of (them) too.”
For Woolf, the preseason was a highlight as was the way the side started the regular season.
|“A real highlight was round one, obviously, and what we were able to do over those first five, six rounds. I think we can look back at that and be really proud … be really proud of the results and how we were able to start the year but also the way we played and how we got those results,” he said.|
“That’s our springboard for going into next year.”
In a hallway at the back of the Dolphins’ Academy, there’s an anagram on the wall spelling the word dolphin and listing the qualities they have embraced.
We asked Woolf to define the culture the club is trying to build.
“We want it to be around hard work first. Some of those things like determination … I think they’re some traits the team has shown really well this year and there’s a lot of games that we probably didn’t get the start or weren’t in a great position at different times but what we were able to do was keep ourselves in the fight. At times, we got results on the back of doing that,” he explains.
|“We certainly wanted a team that wasn’t going to give up on each other. There’s very, very few games where that happened.”|
It all started during preseason, when players arrived at Redcliffe from Melbourne, Sydney, Gold Coast, Brisbane and Townsville. Some were there from the beginning and others arrived late due to World Cup commitments.
“It was challenging. It was a bit more challenging than what I expected it to be. It’s not something I’ve spoken to Wayne about, but I think he’d probably find it the same way,” Woolf says when asked how difficult it was to pull them together.
“There’s just so many things to think of. Every time you turned around players were asking what we want to do in this situation, what we’re going to call this. While you’d covered off on so many things, there were always things that you hadn’t at the same time because everything was starting new.
“Usually you walk into a club, and even if you have to make changes, there’s established habits and sayings and words for things. We just had to establish all of that.”
Woolf said it was an opportunity to stretch his abilities as a coach.
“It meant that we all had to think about different things and think a little bit differently. I think you do grow when you’re challenged and we were certainly challenged through the preseason,” he explains.
Working with Wayne
Woolf is an experienced and respected coach in his own right. He came to the Dolphins from English Super League side St Helens, where he was the Head Coach.
Under Woolf, St Helens has won the past two English Super League Grand Finals, the 2021 Challenge Cup Final, and claimed the 2022 English Super League minor premiership.
Before that he was an assistant coach at Cowboys, Broncos and Knights.
Woolf is also the man who has led the Tongan revolution in international rugby league, transforming the tiny Pacific Island nation from Test minnow into a celebrated powerhouse.
Regardless, he has relished the chance to work alongside Wayne Bennett before he takes the reins in 2025.
“I’ve learnt a lot. Wayne’s exceptional to work with and he’s a great example. The way that he has the ability to squeeze the best out of players and keep players really accountable … just keep a really level head, no matter what the situation are all things that have been great to observe,” Woolf said.
“He’s very different to any other coach that I’ve worked with. There’s been plenty of things that I’ve looked at and observed. There’s certainly learnings and things that you can use going forward. At the same time, you’ve got to be your own coach and at some stage I’ve got to be my own person and my own coach too.
“It’s been great to work alongside him and see what’s made him successful and what makes him so different.”
Managing disruption, injury
The 2023 season started strongly for the Dolphins, but it wasn’t too long before their depth was tested with a string of injuries and suspensions to key players. It took its toll.
“Injuries are one thing … who they are is the other thing. We lost some really crucial players for long periods. Your best players are your best players. They’re your most influential. Any team that loses those best players tends to have tough periods while they’re away,” Woolf said.
|“That really tested our depth and if there was an area we probably were a little bit short, it was in our depth … particularly experienced depth. |
“On the flip side of that, there’s a real positive outcome for that going forward as well. You’ve seen the emergence of guys like Isaiya Katoa, Jack Bostock, Mason Teague, Harrison Graham … there’s some young men that have had a lot of opportunity this year to play first grade and realise they were first-graders going forward and get that real on-the-job experience that you just don’t get from playing Queensland Cup.
“They’re all going to be better players going forward and that’s certainly going to help strengthen the club.”
Planning for 2024
So, what happens now? When does review and planning start?
“It’s already started a little bit. I think straight away you’re thinking about what could have been done better and what we could change, what’s going to help us improve in the future. Throughout the course of the year, you’re always evaluating or reviewing – you do that with the players, you do that with yourselves,” Woolf said.
“We obviously modified things throughout the year to try to find what we think is going to work.
“We’ve got a real advantage next year compared to this year … we’ve seen what has worked, we’ve seen what hasn’t worked for this group. We get to put those things that have worked into place for next year. That certainly helps with consistency.”
The Dolphins will be bolstered by the arrival of Tom Flegler, Herbie Farnworth and Jake Averillo, but can we expect more signings in the offseason?
“I’m not 100 per cent sure there. I think we do have the ability but at the same time we want to make sure that anyone we bring in really enhances the group. That’s as a player and as a person. We’re going to be quite selective there, rather than just going and jumping because we do have space (in the salary cap),” Woolf said.
|“I think the guys that we’ve brought in are exceptional. I think they’re exactly what we need. They are going to improve the team … on the field and off the field. It’s something to look forward to.|
“I think everyone can look forward to some improvement. Those players that we’re bringing in … if you look at the two guys coming from the Broncos, they’re showing what they’re capable of in big games at the moment. They’re going to bring that sort of attitude and that sort of experience and ability as well.
“That’s going to help us, but we can’t rely on a couple of recruits coming in and changing things for us either. We’ve got to take our learnings from this year and figure out how we’re going to be more consistent in particular.
“I think what you will see is a lot of the same in terms of attitude and fight and making sure we stay in games regardless of what’s going on but also a lot of improvement and more consistency. I think we’ll be very disappointed if we haven’t improved considerably on this year.”
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