TV Review – Dawn of the Dolphins

It’s been a hot topic of back-and-forth contention for years now – who is going to be the 17th team to join the National Rugby League. To grow the rapidly expanding game at grassroots levels, at regional levels, indigenous levels, women’s levels and all other facets of the ‘greatest game of all’, the importance of selecting the correct team to enhance the sport has never had one answer.

That was until 2021, when the world was slowly moving out of lockdowns, bubbles and no-contact, the thriving NRL, under the leadership of Peter V’landys and Andrew Abdo, decided it was time to burst through the defensive line and make the attacking play – bids were opening to South East Queensland clubs to become the new NRL team.

The new Stan Original series, Dawn of the Dolphins, chronicles the inception, rise and entry of former Queensland Cup team, the Redcliffe Dolphins, into the NRL, with unprecedented access behind the scenes as the club and their supercoach, the often media-elusive Wayne Bennett, build a team and culture with the intention of taking the NRL by storm.

Episode 1 of the show opens with coach Wayne Bennett addressing the interviewer in the most typical Bennett fashion. Stating that “this morning I decided I really didn’t want to talk to you guys”, track with Bennett’s media history – a man of very few, specifically chosen and selected words. However, unlike a quick 2 minute press conference post-game, a series like Dawn of the Dolphins allows the time and patience for Bennett to not just reveal more about his process as a coach, but also who he is as a person and the values that are close to him.

Bennett vulnerably opens up about his introverted nature in a truly candid way. He admits it’s not animosity towards people being the reason he’s a man of few words, but more so the fact that he genuinely struggles with being open. The toll that giving his life to rugby league has taken on his relationships, both personally and professionally, has not been an easy road for him. And it’s not regret that causes the feeling to be closed off, but rather his true passion and care for those that he feels depend on him for their livelihood (players, coaches and staff) is far stronger than being a personality for the media. There are more words spoken by Bennett within this first episode, than have been heard on TV in his almost 50-year career as coach.

Then, we backtrack to the announcement from the NRL about the bidding for an 17th team, based out of South East Queensland, was open. The sheer level of logistics, planning and excel-spreadsheeting, plus a myriad of phone calls and meetings, shows the Everest-like climb it takes for the prospective clubs (including the Ipswich Jets) to just even get a foot in the door. The series closely follows Dolphins’ CEO, Terry Reader, who was an integral part of moving the club forward during their bid. The panic of driving for success only becomes more tense when the announcement of who the new club will be in delayed until October, giving the Dolphin’s less than 2 weeks to fully register themselves into the NRL for the 2023 season.

However, once the registration is complete, and the Dolphins are inducted as the 17th team, it becomes crunch time for Bennett, as he immediately gets to building a squad and team of coaches that will hopefully lead to the Dolphins’ success in the NRL. Throughout the episode, there are intercuts and inserts of players as they sign on one by one, slowly building up the roster. Developmental player Harrison Graham is shown at Darling Point Special School, a local Brisbane school in which Harrison assists the teachers with students who have severe physical and intellectual disabilities, while marquee signings such as Felise Kafusi and Jesse Bromwich are shown Zoom calling in for chats with Wayne Bennett.

The most riveting and engaging signing of the episode is that of former Brisbane Bronco, Anthony Milford, who has played under Bennett before. However, Milford’s form over the last few years hasn’t always been up to scratch, and despite being a solid player, the contract negotiations between Milford’s manager and the Dolphin’s recruitment gives a profanity-laden look behind the curtain of what signing a player really looks and sounds like. And it doesn’t sound like easy conversations are had.

Dawn of the Dolphins premiere episode wraps up with the Dolphins trial games that opened the 2023 season against Queensland Cup opponents. And while the gameplay is exciting, it only feels like a taste of what’s to come in future episodes once the NRL trials get underway.

The first episode of Dawn of the Dolphins sets a strong, and quite interesting, fact-based foundation of who the Dolphins are, but more importantly, who Wayne Bennett is as a coach. The most interesting aspect of this show is the fact that it’s still filming as the NRL season launches, meaning that the series will almost play out in real time as the Dolphins begin their journey.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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