Player pathways specialist Kurt Richards is heading up a team at the Dolphins working with 12 junior clubs to identify and nurture emerging rugby league players.
Richards says it’s not about building a ‘super club’ at Dolphins, instead encouraging rising stars to continue playing at their local club, with their mates, while being part of the Dolphins Pathways Program.
It aims to nurture players from juniors all the way through to NRL, complementing Wayne Bennett’s NRL program in 2023.
Bennett’s passion for implementing such a system has been evident from the moment he took on the top job at the club and is shared by Richards, who has been involved in player development for 20 years.
It’s a journey that he started as a teacher at famed rugby league school Keebra Park High.
He spent 13 years at the Brisbane Broncos, including a stint as assistant coach of the NRL team.
Along the way he has been a vital part of the Queensland Emerging Origin program, coaching the Queensland under-16s and under-18s, and is the Maroons’ current under-19s coach.
“The pathway program is about developing local players and giving them the opportunity to progress right through the academy pathway to play NRL here at home for the Dolphins,” Richards says.
“But we also want to clear up the misconception that you have to be playing with Redcliffe to be part of the pathways program.
“We encourage players in the local community that play for Burpengary or play for North Lakes or Albany Creek to stay and play with their mates. There is a pathway here and you never know when your opportunity will come.”
In mid-December, the Dolphins held their first Junior Dolphins Camp for under-14s players across two days. (Check out the photo gallery above)
“We assembled what our recruitment staff considered to be the 15 best players from around the state with a large focus on the local area,” Richards says.
Of the six local boys, three were part of the under-15 Moreton Bay Raiders side – aged 14 years, playing up – which won the Division 1 premiership last year.
The aim was to connect with junior clubs, show them what the Dolphins are all about and identify talent for a new academy.
The Dolphins Academy will be made up of 15 and 16-year-olds, with 10-12 players contracted initially.
Four local juniors have already been invited to join as a result of their performances at the camp and others are expected to be signed soon.
Underneath that will be opportunities for players to be involved in Dolphins Squads, but not everyone has to play for Redcliffe.
“We want them to play for their local clubs but there will be the opportunity to play in a team environment with the under-16 Cyril Connell Cup and under-18 Mal Meninga Cup,” Richards says.
“It’s not about building a super club at the Dolphins but strong clubs in and around the region. There are 12 clubs in the Redcliffe catchment. We want to support all those clubs and provide opportunities to players.”
He says the camp enabled the Dolphins to prove they have good, experienced people ready to guide and support other clubs and emerging talent.
“There were a few from outside the area, like me, but also people who have been part of the Dolphins for a long time like Mick Roberts (200+ games for the Dolphins), former coach John Dixon, Dolphins strength and conditioning coach Gerard Parle and two local coaches - Barry Berrigan from Redcliffe and Larry Dickson from the Moreton Bay Raiders team,” he says.
Richards says building relationships with junior clubs is key to the academy’s success.
“The Dolphins have made no secret they want to be a development club and develop their own juniors and create pathways from juniors to the NRL. For the players, it’s the dream of many young boys to play in the NRL. We can’t guarantee that, but we can guide and support that dream on and off their field,” he says.
The academy will also work closely with clubs and schools to help young players map out a ‘plan b’, because injury and other obstacles can quickly dash an NRL dream.
“We have experience staff, good people to help be role models for these young players and we’re continuing to build that team,” he says.
Performances on the field are just part of the focus, with a strong social, education and wellbeing component as well to help young players make good decisions.
There’s also the opportunity to work with one of the best coaches of all time – Wayne Bennett.
Richards says, without an NRL team in 2022, Bennett will be on the ground with young players this year and will remain a strong influence when the Dolphins enter the national competition next year.
He says dual international and former Maroon Ben Te’o will also be a positive role model, with plenty of life experience to share as well.
“I encourage young players to get out there and play for their local clubs because the Dolphins will be out there looking in 2022,” he says.