Rugby league-Bennett at it again as Dolphins make a mark on NRL debut

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Supercoach Wayne Bennett worked his Midas touch once again at the weekend as his National Rugby League (NRL) debutant Dolphins stunned the Sydney Roosters in front of more than 32,000 fans at Brisbane’s Lang Park.

The team from the Brisbane suburb of Redcliffe were the first addition to the NRL since the Gold Coast Titans in 2007 and had been expected to struggle in their first campaign after failing to land any marquee players.

On Sunday, however, Bennett’s assemblage of promising youngsters and cast offs from NRL powerhouses bucked odds of more than 5-1 to claim a deserved 28-18 victory over the 15-times champion Roosters.

The 73-year-old coach drew the comparison with the Brisbane Broncos’ first game among Australia’s rugby league elite in 1988, when he led them to a stunning 44-10 victory over then champions Manly.

“No one gave us a chance then, no one gave us a chance here much today,” he told reporters.

“It’s terribly significant. One of the most difficult things is to get that first win because it just settles everything down. So a loss today would’ve put us under a lot of pressure.

“It was special for a lot of reasons today. The chance they took getting a club into the NRL, having 30,000-plus people today, it was a great occasion and there’s so many wins today. But the biggest winner today is the game.”

Former policeman Bennett was to go on to lead the Broncos to six of the seven championships he has masterminded over his long career, establishing his reputation as one of the game’s finest coaches.

Title success would look to be a while away for the Dolphins but they could play a part in an NRL power shift north towards Queensland after seven seasons of southern dominance.

The Broncos, who showed signs of a revival last year after a few lean seasons, stunned double defending champions Penrith 13-12 in the opening match of the new campaign last Thursday.

North Queensland Cowboys, the last team from the northeastern state to win the NRL title in 2015 and third in the regular season last year, also won their season-opener 19-18 against the Canberra Raiders on Saturday.

Even the oft-derided Titans got in on the act, making it four wins out of four for the Queensland teams with a 22-10 victory over Wests Tigers at Sydney’s Leichhardt Oval in the last match of the opening round.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Lincoln Feast.)