When it comes to rugby league expansion sides, Scott Sattler knows better than most what works and what doesn’t.
A member of the South Queensland Crushers in their inaugural season in 1995 as a player, he was later involved in the formation of the Gold Coast Titans when they entered the competition in 2007.
So Sattler has watched with interest as the Dolphins earned their spot in the NRL as the competition’s 17th team in 2023.
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The Crushers only lasted three seasons, killed off by Super League and the Broncos’ desire to return Brisbane to a one-club town.
And it’s that rivalry that is the biggest red-flag for the Dolphins.
“The worst thing a new club can do is try and go toe-to-toe with the Broncos. Trying to do everything to beat them, on and off the field, that’s just a recipe for disaster,” Sattler told Wide World of Sports.
“That’s what the Crushers got wrong. What the Dolphins can learn from that is you don’t try to beat them off the field with your marketing plans, don’t try to beat them with your commercial and corporate packages.
“Although the Broncos didn’t go so well this season, they’re always going to be a juggernaut in the game, especially in south-east Queensland.
“Worry about your own backyard, and what you can control.
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Instead of creating an ‘us against them’ mentality, Sattler said the opportunity exists for the Dolphins and Broncos to work together for the greater good, even if they are fierce rivals on the field.
“Be collaborative, as opposed to fighting everything. Both teams can send a really strong message to fans in south-east Queensland that they’re here together to grow the game,” he explained.
“Yes, of course if they’re playing each other, then they’re rivals on game day, but outside of that, this is about the excitement of rugby league and having three teams in the region, if you include Gold Coast.
“If they try and go toe-to-toe with the Broncos, they’ll get crushed.”
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Mastercoach Wayne Bennett will be at the helm of the Dolphins when they line up in 2023, with the club able to approach off-contract players from November 1.
With seven premierships under his belt, Bennett’s presence gives the Dolphins instant credibility.
“Your initial signings are really important, to send a strong message to the community, and to potential fans,” Sattler noted.
“You want to send a message that, first and foremost, you can win from day one. Your head coach becomes your strongest recruitment tool.
“With Wayne Bennett as the coach, it sends a message to fans that you’re going to make a really big impact, just like Melbourne did with Chris Anderson in 1998.
“It makes recruiting a lot easier, it gives the club an aura when you’ve got someone like Wayne in charge.
“There’ll be players around the competition that want to come and be a part of that.”
The Dolphins will play most of their home games at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, sharing the ground with the Broncos. It’s expected the draw will be done in such a way that there’s a game at Suncorp most weeks.
“I don’t think the Dolphins need to attract new supporters,” Sattler explained.
“They just need to attract the rugby league fans. You’ve got Souths supporters, Tigers fans, Panthers supporters, all living in south-east Queensland, so you’ve got to be able to hook them.
“That’s the biggest challenge for the Dolphins. The Titans did that really well, the fans could still support their team, but the Titans were their second-favourite side. That’s the focus for any new team.
“You’ve got Broncos fans that are rusted on Broncos fans, and appointing Kevvie (Kevin Walters) as coach, he’s a club legend, so even though it didn’t go that well in 2021, the diehard fans will have faith in him.
“The winners will be the rugby league fans who want the best of both worlds. They can support the Broncos, but when the Broncos are playing away, the Dolphins will be at Suncorp, so they’ve got an opportunity to watch a match every weekend at Suncorp Stadium.”
Exactly what would constitute a successful first few years for the Dolphins is up for debate. The Broncos finished seventh in 1988, with only a final-round loss to Balmain costing them a spot in the finals in their maiden year. By 1992 they had their first premiership, and their second came a year later.
In 1999, Melbourne redefined what was possible, taking out the title in just their second year.
But Sattler cautioned against expecting too much, too early.
“I don’t think there’s a huge expectation from fans in your first 2-3 years. There’s internal pressure, you want to play finals footy from year one, but I think the fans are more forgiving,” he said.
“But if you’re not playing finals by years three, four, five, they start to ask questions.
“From a rugby league point of view, success is measured by whether or not you’re playing finals footy by years three, four, five, and if you are, the off-field measure are simple – does the crowd and commercial support reflect the on-field results?
“At some point the Dolphins will be like every other club, they’ll live and die by their results on the field.”
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