Wayne Bennett’s Dolphins reverse script to ambush Sydney Roosters in NRL boil-over

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It was a win that made even Wayne Bennett smile. The NRL’s newest team and the game’s best coach pulled off one of rugby league’s great ambushes as the Dolphins demolished the Sydney Roosters 28-18 at Suncorp Stadium.

The Dolphins, the NRL’s long-awaited 17th team, were written off by pundits as a ragtag crew of veterans, loose guns and diamonds in the rough, and were widely intent on napping their inaugural season. They showed guts and character to defeat one of the glamorous sides of the competition in a round one thriller.

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Despite widespread local reaction to the abandonment of old Redcliffe roots in their name, the Dolphins drew 32,177 fans to Suncorp to witness the 75-year-old Queensland club make their big debut. Appropriately, their competitors – the former Eastern Suburbs Roosters – had also given up their origins in favor of a franchise brand. None of that mattered as kick-off took place under the hot Brisbane skies.

The Roosters scored the first goal when a fine set piece sent the Roosters star winger Joseph Suaalii into the corner. Though the grounding was doubtful, Edrick Lee’s interference in the run-up was worth a penalty try and possible sin.

The Dolphins hit back immediately when former Bulldogs No. 9 Jeremy Marshall King busted from the dummy half, darting 40 yards before pulling James Tedesco and turning inside for Hamiso “The Hammer” Tabuai-Fidow to take hit the post.

Too often the dolphins’ adrenaline would overwhelm them with panic episodes when patience was called for. As Wayne’s boys spat the ball out from a kickoff, it didn’t take long for the Roosters to score again as Drew Hutchison sauntered over after a lucky jump to watch the Roosters reclaim the lead. Sam Walker added the extras.

Now came the test as the Roosters ramped up the pressure and launched waves of attacks one after the other. The dolphins bravely persevered. Winger Jamayne Isaako thwarted another attempt with a final trench attack on Daniel Tupou and teammate Brenko Lee reversed another raid with an interception, rumbling 55 yards only to be overrun by old legs (and Suaalii).

The Dolphins needed a brainwave and former Melbourne Storm forward Felise Kaufusi supplied it, laying down two bell-ringing tackles (one against former teammate and new Roosters recruit Brandon Smith) in a minute to set the momentum for the former Rabbitoh create Mark Nicholls over as the Dolphins closed the scores.

Isaiya Katoa, who got into the biggest game of his life at the age of 19 years and 15 days, sparked the Dolphins’ rise after 46 minutes. He found ex-Penrith half Sean O’Sullivan (son of Peter, the Dolphins’ recruiting chief) who went deep into the line and then returned to Connelly Lemuelo, who rolled over Sam Walker to give the Dolphins their first lead bring .

You never looked back. Kiwi international Isaako stepped aside for Luke Keary after a break at the left edge to score the Dolphins’ fourth try and extend the lead to 12 points. Isaako had his double minutes later when he skipped unmarked on the back of another Roosters error.

The Sydney side rallied. Luke Keary, who was playing in hats to combat a series of career shocks, set up a try for Daniel Tupou with a chip kick to parry a try. But when enforcers Victor Radley and Matt Lodge walked away after headbutting and Egan Butcher was sent into the mortal trap for an attack on his knees, the chooks looked cooked.

The fatal blow came when 33-year-old Dolphins captain Jesse Bromwich rolled over a flying Australian captain James Tedesco, forcing the Roosters No. 1 to drop the ball cold a few tackles later. As the visitors bowed their heads, the crowd stood as one.

The dolphins’ dawn had come and Wayne’s Bennett ambush was complete.

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