Bennett’s millions of reasons to make Pangai a Dolphin

Joel Gould |

Tevita Pangai Jr (l) and Wayne Bennett have a long association going back to their days at Brisbane.
Tevita Pangai Jr (l) and Wayne Bennett have a long association going back to their days at Brisbane.

The Dolphins are “a couple of million dollars” under the salary cap this year, coach Wayne Bennett has revealed, with enough cash to afford blockbusting forward Tevita Pangai Jr.

Following a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury to lock Tom Gilbert, and second-rower Connelly Lemuelu set for an extended break with a knee injury, the Dolphins are short on powerhouse forwards.

Pangai made his return to rugby league last week for Souths-Logan Magpies in the Queensland Cup against Redcliffe.  

The Tonga international walked away from the game while at Canterbury last year to pursue a professional boxing career but has decided he can juggle both.

Pangai, who has played 138 NRL games, wants to return to the elite level at some stage – and Bennett knows what the 28-year-old brings to the table after coaching him at the Broncos.

Magpies assistant Justin Hodges and Redcliffe coach Ben Teo were impressed with Pangai’s display last week.

“I saw the game as well and I wasn’t as impressed as his coach or Ben were,” Bennett grinned.

“I know Tevita very well and I know what he can do. 

“He is a wonderful player and I have a lot of time for him, but if (the coaches) were giving him raps they were just being nice to him.”

Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett.
The Dolphins still have plenty of wriggle-room under the salary cap, coach Wayne Bennett says. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)

Pangai has Bennett’s number after ringing him when he was a youth at Canberra and looking to join the Broncos.

It may be time for him to give the mastercoach another call.

“I had (Pangai’s number) but I have lost it now. It doesn’t work any more  … but he is Tevita mate. He can play,” Bennett said.

Bennett has hedged his bets previously on Pangai, saying last year he would welcome the forward back to league with the Dolphins but in February insisting he was “happy with what we have got”.

The Dolphins are still looking at signing players for this year, if the right ones become available.

“There is always a temptation to go to the market if the right player is out there,” Bennett said.

“There are lots of things we have done well here, and one of them is to hold our nerve and not waste our money.

“We are playing under our salary cap now and we have money to buy a player. We have two players to fill up our 30 positions.

“We are probably a couple of million dollars under the salary cap because we haven’t just bought players, and we are not going to do that until we get a player that suits our club.”

The Dolphins welcomed off-contract North Queensland back-rower Kulikefu Finefeuiaki to Redcliffe during the week for a tour of the facilities.

The Cowboys intend to pull out all the stops to keep Finefeuiaki but the Dolphins are preparing a big play for the 20-year-old.

“He is an explosive young player on the way up, with a lot of ability,” Bennett said.

“We have just got to wait and see now what he does.

“There is a big opportunity because we have balance in our cap and money to spend on quality players.”

The Dolphins have captain Jesse Bromwich retiring at the end of the year and several other forwards over the age of 30.

While Finefeuiaki would be a signing for 2025, Bennett reiterated he remains on the lookout to bolster his squad for 2024. 

AAP