ANALYSIS: Kaufusi a major doubt for Origin after Welch shot as Storm down Dolphins in bruising encounter (2023)

Melbourne are back on top – sort of. The Storm’s 24-16 win over a valiant Dolphins side was enough to return them to the summit of the NRL, alongside five others, with the potential for the Raiders to make it a full six if they defeat Manly on Sunday afternoon.

It’s emblematic of 2023’s NRL season, the rollercoaster that never stops. Granted, there’s an element of timing in it, because the Broncos and Souths have eight wins and others need their byes to catch up, but that’s just another quirk of this crazy season.

This was as tough as anything we’ve seen this year, and something of an Origin preview: the mate-against-mate dynamic was on full display with Felise Kaufusi and Christian Welch, long-time friends, going at it hammer and tongs in the middle. The Bromwich brothers, also against their old club, left it all out there.

Kaufusi might be in hot water for Origin, however, following a bin for a shoulder charge and will certainly sweat on the judiciary charges dropping before the Maroons team is named.

Wayne Bennett didn’t think there was much in it, referencing a recent incident with Jarome Luai, though the Match Review Panel will likely disagree.

“It looks like he might have hit him in the mouth, but I don’t take a great deal of interest in it because I don’t think it was malicious or vicious or whatever category you want to put it into,” said the coach.

“Some go to the sin bin, some don’t. You can’t pick who’s going to the sin bin and who isn’t. Don’t do the offence and you don’t have to worry about all this stuff. After that, who knows what’s going to happen?”

“Wasn’t there an Origin guy who touched a match official? He’ll be playing next week, he got a fine, didn’t he? I would say if he (Kaufusi) is charged it’ll be no more than that.”


Melbourne were plenty good enough tonight to get over the top of the Dolphins, racking up a 24-4 lead at the break, though they went scoreless after the break and Redcliffe, as is already their trademark, bounced back and threatened.

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Craig Bellamy takes the chocolates in the battle of the supercoaches – his 30th over the old master – but he looked ashen-faced in the coaches box at the end, clearly displeased with the second half showing.

“We were really happy with the way we played in the first half,” he said. “We were fortunate that when Felise went to the bin it made it easier to set a platform.

“We struggled in the second half and the whole game, the Dolphins scrambled really well. The best part of the second half was that we hung in there on a few occasions, but we lost our way. We’ll need to check that out.”

Bennett is always emotionless, but inside, he would have gone through the wringer too. It started badly through the Kaufusi sin bin and got worse as the Storm showed the class to capitalise on errors and poor discipline.

But as the game wore on, the pride would have come too. In the post-match TV interview, captain Jesse Bromwich referred to his team’s style as ‘Dolphins footy’: it’s a measure of their achievement that, after just 12 games, everyone knows what that means.


Looks like Hughes and Munster can read each other's minds out there! ⚡️

????WATCH #NRLDolphinsStorm on Ch. 502 or stream via @kayosports

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) May 20, 2023

The Dolphins conundrum

There’s something about the way that the Dolphins play that makes what they do somewhat unsustainable, at least at the moment.

Their best method of winning is to make the other team look rubbish, which they can do by outenthusing and outfighting their opponents, all the intangible things that Wayne Bennett sides are famous for.

They can only really play this way, given the huge talent disparity between them and most other teams, and this certainly isn’t a criticism of their style, because it works and had delivered them results next to nobody expected.

The central gambit is this: if you’re good and play well,you’ll probably beat us, but we’ll make play well and work hard for every inch through our effort. Evidently, given their six wins, that is plenty enough to defeat a lot of NRL teams.

The problem with it is two-fold. One, on occasions such as this, the good team shows up and it ends up as a relatively straightforward win.


"They're still alive, the Dolphins!"

The Dolphins ain't done just yet! ????

????WATCH #NRLDolphinsStorm on Ch. 502 or stream via @kayosports

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) May 20, 2023

The Dolphins have also lost to Souths, Brisbane and Canberra, all of whom are above them in the ladder as it stands, and their style produced an upset with the Roosters and Sharks.

The second part is that it’s really, really hard to get up every week to the extent that Redcliffe have to be up.

Remember, good teams can play badly and win if the other team aren’t at their peak, because their best players will dig them out of trouble.

But when the Dolphins do well, it’s a collective effort, and everyone has to be at it. They don’t have a Cam Munster or a Latrell Mitchell who will dig them out of a hole.

It was clear from early on here that this wasn’t going to be their night. Kaufusi tried to put the shot on, but rather than setting the tone, he got binned.

Melbourne iced their opportunities efficiently, where any upset will require the ‘better’ team to play wastefully.


Bennett will know this. He’ll not panic. Next week it’s the Dragons, then its the Warriors, then Manly. The style will find willing victims among that trio.

Only two minutes in, and Kaufusi has been sent to the sin bin for this dangerous tackle.

????WATCH #NRLDolphinsStorm on Ch. 502 or stream via @kayosports

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) May 20, 2023

Melbourne’s machine marches on

They’d have you believe that the Storm haven’t been great this year. Yet look where they are: joint top with Souths, Brisbane, Penrith and, if they win tomorrow, Canberra.

We all know that they’ll be there at the end of the year, because they always are, but it’s worth pointing out the huge churn that they have undergone.

Indeed, one only needs to look at the opponents, who fielded three of Melbourne’s pack of the last decade.Melbourne lost those stalwarts and replaced them with Trent Loeiro, Elie Katoa and Max King without losing a step.

Eliesa Katoa runs straight through the Dolphins defence! ????

????WATCH #NRLDolphinsStorm on Ch. 502 or stream via @kayosports

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) May 20, 2023


In a lot of ways, Melbourne are the elite Dolphins, set up to be a constant and then make everyone else play to their level.

The difference, of course, is that they do that and then also have supreme talents who can win the game in the big moments as well.

Ryan Papenhuyzen is still out, too but it barely bares mentioning these days, so effective has Nick Meaney been in his place.

We didn’t learn anything new about the Storm tonight, other than, perhaps, that they’re still very much in the conversation. If you ever thought that weren’t, that is.

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