The NRL has found its 17th team after it was confirmed the Dolphins would receive a licence to enter the competition in 2023. 

Known as the Redcliffe Dolphins, its chairman Robert (Changa) Jones has a strong connection to Gunnedah, having been born and raised in the town and helping the 1973 Bulldogs to a Group 4 premiership and Clayton Cup.

He spoke to the Gunnedah Times about the significance of the announcement and what preparation was involved so that when the chance presented itself, the club was ready to pounce on the opportunity to join the NRL.

“We’re over the moon with the decision,” Jones said.

“I’ve been on the board here for about 30 years and during that time we always had ambitions to someday be in the competition, if it was possible and about 10 years ago, we thought it was a good idea to prepare ourselves in case a chance arose.

“To do that we needed to diversify our income streams, which we’ve done by building a shopping centre, a stadium, a gym and a pool, with a view to one day have a crack in the NRL.”

Jones paid tribute to Dolphins’ CEO, Tony Murphy, another Gunnedah local who made the switch to Southern Queensland.

The pair had been at the forefront of the club’s bid to become the NRL’s newest expansion team and even fought the executives behind the Titans’ bid in 2005, with Gold Coast Dolphins the preferred name to enter the competition.

“Tony Murphy has been instrumental in making sure all of our plans come to fruition,” Jones said.

“When Gold Coast tried to go into the NRL as the Dolphins, we took out an injunction to stop them from doing it.

“Tony was the head of that, he was in our management team at the time and we fought the Titans.

“To their credit, they knew they couldn’t beat us, so we knew we could use our name someday down the track and here we are.”

The road to the NRL wasn’t easy and although Brisbane was the preferred destination, the Dolphins had to beat their rivals, the Firehawks and the Jets, to become the new franchise.

Knowing their fate, Jones and the Dolphins were already making major moves, signing the services of premiership winning coach, Wayne Bennett. While the deal is “99 per cent done”, Bennett has been seen dressed in Dolphins’ attire.

“We’ve always been known to hire the best people,” Jones said.

“Wayne’s arguably the best candidate available, while it’s not quite done yet, it’s about there and we’re really excited.

“Wayne brings a lot to the table and is perhaps the best coach the game’s ever seen.

“We’re sure he’ll do great things for development.”

Bennett is fresh off a grand final defeat to the Penrith Panthers, taking the South Sydney Rabbitohs to the big dance, in his final year of his contract.

It is an important move for the club, with ambitions of contending for the premiership, right from the very start. While a coach is critical, signing key players is another major step and despite not “having thought that far ahead” Jones would like to see Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans sign with the club.

“A guy like Daly would be great,” he said.

“He played for the club as a junior, along with his dad and grandfather. It would have a really nice ring to it.

“But he’s contracted to Manly, so that’s sort of just romanticising.”

Jones made mention of Gunnedah’s history with the club, with players making the move to Queensland to join the Dolphins. 

“We’re always looking for recruits and Gunnedah has been a productive area for us, we’ve had lots of Gunnedah boys who have played for Redcliffe over the years – good ones too.

“We’d like to keep that connection going, so if there’s any good young players coming through at the club, the doors are always open at Redcliffe.”

It will be all-hands-on-deck for Jones and Murphy in 2022, readying the club for the 2023 NRL season. 

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