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Bennett won’t settle for ‘second best’ at Dolphins as Bird says no to Queensland return

Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett has defended the incoming NRL club’s recruitment strategy, saying the roster “could be finished tomorrow” if they were to settle for second best.

Bennett will lead the Redcliffe side in their debut from 2023 and was decked out in new club attire atop Brisbane’s Mt Coot-tha as the club’s website crashed on Wednesday when membership sales officially began.

Rookie Penrith playmaker Isaiya Katao, Storm trio Felise Kaufusi, Jesse and Kenny Bromwich, South Sydney prop Mark Nicholls, Brisbane fullback Jamayne Isaako and Eels utility Ray Stone have all signed with the new franchise.

They’re yet to lure an out-and-out superstar though, with Bennett on Wednesday insisting Newcastle’s Kalyn Ponga and North Queensland’s Jason Taumalolo were both players of interest.

But the master coach said he felt no pressure to stack up the signings yet.

“If we want to go and sign the second and third best players in the game we won’t have a problem filling a roster tomorrow,” he said.

“But we’re looking for the best players and those clubs who have them are doing all they can do hang on to them.

“That’s why we’ve got to remain patient and calm and just make sure we don’t spend our money on guys who can’t get the job done for us.

“I’m sure if we find ourselves in the market for him (Ponga) we’ll be able to afford it.”

Jack Bird has declared he wants to stay at St George Illawarra despite confirming he spoke with NRL rivals after the club pulled out of a deal at the end of 2021.

Bird remains off contract at season’s end and is the Dragons last big name to renegotiate a new deal after all but conceding they will cut Tariq Sims free for next year.

The centre-turned-back-rower was offered a two-year deal at the end of last year, but opted not to sign when given a deadline to decide his future.

That prompted meetings with Bennett about the Dolphins and Eels coach Brad Arthur over the summer.

However, the 26-year-old said he had let talks with the Eels run cold, while also making clear to Bennett that he does not want to move back to Queensland for the Dolphins.

Instead, he said he was hopeful a resolution would be reached to stay at the Red V, with talks well advanced.

“The talks are back in action now and I have made it clear I want to stay here and be here in the long run,” Bird said.

Brayden Wiliame and Jack Bird of the Dragons celebrate after the Dragons defeated the Broncos.

Jack Bird (right) is keen to stay at the Dragons. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

“I have always made it clear I want to stay at the Dragons. I am back home with my family and friends. Hopefully we can come to a decision in the next few weeks.”

Bird’s future has been a point of constant headlines in recent months, with Bennett declaring his interest this week and the Eels’ inquiries becoming public.

The former NSW State of Origin player said that those conversations had largely revolved around being an Isaiah Papali’i replacement for Parramatta, after accepting he will play his career out in the forwards.

But he denied there was any aspect of greed in speaking to other clubs before returning to talk with the Dragons to shore up his future. 

“(Reports) have made me look selfish and greedy, but it wasn’t about money,” Bird said. “I have only spoken to (Brad Arthur) once, but like every other player they talk to different clubs. “I keep in contact with Wayne every now and then but nothing to do with Dolphins.

“It’s just part of the game. You have to try and get the best deal you can get. I am getting older now and have obviously had some bad injuries.”

Bird’s comments come as Dragons captain Ben Hunt urged the club to keep the Steelers junior.

“You need a few players in your side every week who can play any number of positions,” Hunt said. 

“Jack is one of those. So I think it would be pretty smart from the club to look after him and keep him around.”

The Dragons will pay tribute to the late Norm Provan before Friday’s clash with Penrith, with the main grandstand at Kogarah to be renamed in the Immortal’s honour.

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