Dolphins’ dream start continues with win over Knights as Niu, Isaaco score hat tricks

The Dolphins’ incredible start to the season continued with a hard-fought 34-20 win over a depleted Newcastle.

Back-to-back hat tricks for Tessie New and Jamain Isaaco were the headline act, but again, it was a supreme collective effort that capitalized on every mistake the Knights made and iced all of their big moments.

Wayne Bennett’s men were widely regarded as wooden spoon credentials but are now three from three and sitting pretty at the top of the table.

Newcastle were without Calin Ponga and Jaden Brayley from their spine, plus Tyson Frizzell, Adam Elliott, Jack Jones and Kurt Mann. Such was the injury crisis that Adam O’Brien had to bring three debutants off the bench.

They were hampered by a horror night from winger Dom Young, who made five errors, and a late HIA by Jackson Hastings that saw him sent off for a run on a lineout play.

Felize Kaufusi was sent off for putting Hastings on 11, but ironically, his 10-minute lay-off saw him return to action, while the victim of a late strike was unable to return due to a 15-minute stoppage. down for headers.

In the end, the Dolphins were late by two more and got into it. No one believed it could start like this, but the dream continued at Radcliffe.

Wayne’s old guard will be a problem for many teams

It’s a cliché, but you know exactly what you’re going to get from Wayne Bennett’s team. Impressively, just three games into their existence, the Dolphins already have an identity.

It’s not the sexiest football ever seen, but a fair amount of the NRL isn’t very good, and there’s a lot to be said for a truly functional team in a league with plenty of dysfunctional ones.

Their previous two games showed the value of the complete and competitive style of footy that Bennett loves, because it keeps you in games so much that when the other team make mistakes, you are close enough to overturn the result.

You could easily make the argument that there are 16 better rosters than theirs on the table, but this team is already getting the absolute most out of the talent at its disposal, and in a league that strives for consistency, that’s a huge plus.

Tonight, however, showed the other side of it. On a night when they were favourites, they struggled to put away a team that fought hard but lacked key players.

At Radcliffe, the long-term plan will be to start strong and add flair later, and in fact there will be few times in 2023 when a conservative, dedicated style isn’t the best option.

When the large-scale materials arrived, the execution was smooth. No doubt this team will beat any worthy side that turns up and plays half as well, but it will be just fine for the first year.

Hat-trick hero winger Niu and Isaaco grew another leg tonight and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow continues his stellar start. None of these look as good as they do now, and that’s Uncle Wayne.

Newcastle can be very proud of that

The Knights didn’t lose much at home last year, they got absolutely crushed. Nine times in 2022 they were beaten in front of their own fans who kept coming to see the carnage.

This team isn’t much different from that team, at least materially, but they seem to have become a backbone. Of course there’s something about Newcastle on tonight’s show.

They were seriously depleted, without some of their most experienced players and, crucially, in their starting five at number eight and the course in Ponga and Brailey, plus omissions from the pack, plus the debut of rookies.

It was a night that, regardless of the outcome, should be about effort and unity. That was too much.

They needed their older, more experienced heads to emerge, and they did. Tyson Gamble held back his more provocative elements and played intelligently, Hastings pulled the strings and Dane Gagai offered plenty.

Lachie Miller, who although he has no NRL experience is a 28-year-old Olympian, was electric and caused constant problems.

In many ways, it must anger Adam O’Brien. If his team had shown half the fight they showed in the last two weeks of last year, it wouldn’t have been the disaster it was.

It blew up late, as was always likely, but there’s a lot to take from it.

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