NRL steps in to help depleted Dolphins, Bennett a doubt

Joel Gould |

Dolphins fullback Trai Fuller has been given special dispensation by the NRL to play Parramatta.
Dolphins fullback Trai Fuller has been given special dispensation by the NRL to play Parramatta.

The Dolphins have again been given permission by the NRL to go outside their top 30 in order to field a team, as coach Wayne Bennett battles illness ahead of the round-seven clash with Parramatta.

Due to injury and suspension, 27-year-old Redcliffe Dolphins fullback Trai Fuller will line up against the Eels in Darwin on Friday. 

Star regular No.1 Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow will miss four to six weeks with a hamstring tear, but that is not the only hurdle the Dolphins will have to overcome against Parramatta.

Bennett did not fly with the team on Wednesday evening due to a bout of the flu and was still unable to travel on Thursday, with assistant Kristian Woolf on stand-by to take over for the game.

As uncertainty lingers over Bennett’s status, the Dolphins’ heir apparent would not rule out the possibility that his boss could fly up on gameday.

“He’s a tough old bugger,” Woolf said.

“He’s obviously been crook, he’s been coughing and sputtering and knocked around a little bit earlier in the week but every day I talk to him, and that’s been pretty regular, he’s been sounding better and better.

“I think he’s going to try and get up tomorrow (Friday).”

Wayne Bennett at Dolphins training.
Wayne Bennett barks instructions during a Dolphins training session. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)

Last week, CQ Capras’ Queensland Cup forward Lachlan Hubner was given special dispensation by the NRL to play against Brisbane due to a shortage of forwards.

Hubner and Redcliffe’s Fuller are on NRL train-and-trial contracts with the Dolphins.

Competition rules state such players can only play at the elite level from round 11 onwards, but the governing body has allowed the Dolphins to bring them in earlier.

The Queensland outfit have at least eight of their top squad players either suspended or injured for round seven, including big guns Thomas Flegler, Herbie Farnworth and Felise Kaufusi.

Fuller was Queensland Cup player of the year in 2023 while playing for Redcliffe and is a try-scoring whiz.

 “He is a game breaker and one of the best players in the competition,” Redcliffe coach Ben Te’o told AAP.

“Trai is our man of the match every week. He scores tries. He makes breaks and is just too hard for people to handle at that level.

“He is above the level of Queensland Cup.”

Trai Fuller.
Trai Fuller has the Titans defence guessing during a pre-season clash on the Sunshine Coast. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)

Te’o said Fuller would embrace the challenge of replacing Tabuai-Fidow and not be overwhelmed.

“Trai is not going to try and play like Hammer (Tabuai-Fidow), he will try and play his own game,” Te’o said.

“I don’t think it will be too much of a daunting task for him.

“When he played last year he got one NRL game and came back to me at Redcliffe. 

“This time he has got at least four weeks to get out there and play. That will be really good for him.”

Dolphins captain Jesse Bromwich said Fuller did a good job in his only NRL appearance, against Wests Tigers in 2023.

“What I like about him is he is tough and hits the gaps really hard. He has a knack of finding the tryline,” Bromwich said.

“It is gutting to have Hammer out. He is one of the best players in the comp (but) on the other side of that, I am happy for Trai.”