NRL 2023 team news: Mason Teague Dolphins, Panthers debut

The Panthers are under fire and Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett will rub salt in their wounds by giving one of Penrith’s finest juniors his NRL debut.

Wayne Bennett has dealt Penrith another blow after he played a crucial role in defecting the Dolphins’ latest offseason NRL debutant.

Bennett will introduce former Panthers prodigy Mason Teague – a player being tipped as a potential future NSW Origin star – against the Raiders at Kayo Stadium on Saturday.

Teague, 19, will make his first grade debut in the Dolphins’ first NRL appearance at Redcliffe when he comes off the bench to replace the hard-hitting Ray Stone (knee).

A tenacious lock forward, Teague led Penrith’s SG Ball team – which included Dolphins young gun Isaiya Katoa – to the Premier League title last year with an incredible comeback Grand Finals win.

Teague’s skills, dedication and reputation caught the attention of Dolphins recruiting chief Peter O’Sullivan, who launched a poaching attack on the junior star after landing in Katoa.

But Teague was set to remain at the reigning NRL firsts until seven-time Premiership-winning Dolphins coach Bennett came into the frame.

“I only spoke to Wayne once,” Teague said.

“Before that, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit to coming here. But after talking to Wayne, I was pretty sure I wanted to come here.

“I picked the Dolphins for a fresh start. I’ve always wanted to live on the coast, especially with my girlfriend.

“Being coached by Wayne and a bunch of people who have been in the game for a while like the Bromwich brothers (Jesse and Kenny)… it was good for me to get the experience and help me in my career.

“I feel like it was worth it and I love it. I learned a lot.”

Much like five-eighth-pointed Katoa, who ousted Anthony Milford to make his NRL debut for the Dolphins in last Sunday’s historic, rousing win over the Roosters, Teague has skipped a Queensland Cup initiation and will go straight to the top grade.

But O’Sullivan has no doubt the hard-working forward is ready for the NRL after a sensational preseason.

“From the first day I saw him play, he had leg speed and a willingness to compete, which is so valuable in our game,” he said.

“He has all the attributes. He has good skills, competes hard, can play 80 minutes and has no fear in him.

“It was a no-brainer that we went after him. He was captain of the team and put his body at risk.

“Isaiya and Mason were the two most influential players on that team. He was extraordinary, he grabbed me from the start.

“It was supposed to be an injury to Tommy (Gilbert) or Stoney that gave him his first crack in the NRL.

“The way he played in the trials, he was. He was on the ball, involved in three or four tries and only in competition.

“Wayne taught competition and effort and Mason embodies that. His game is built on that.

“He won’t be overwhelmed. He’s ready to go. He’ll be a top-notch first-year for a few years.”

The Panthers are under pressure after a slow start to the year, losing the World Club Challenge to St Helens before suffering a rare Round 1 loss at home to Brisbane.

Back-to-back Premiers have lost NRL players Api Koroisau, Viliame Kikau and Charlie Staines, but O’Sullivan said it was the junior losses that could hurt Penrith in the long run.

“People talk about Penrith missing Kikau and Api, but they also miss all these other players underneath that came through,” he said.

“It was important for us to get these players in the 18-19 age group because we didn’t have any. It was really important that we had the best 18-19 year olds we could get.

“We have Isaiya, Mason and Jack Bostock (Dragons). We thought we had another one (Harrison Hassett, Penrith) but he backflipped on us.

“I was really excited because I knew we needed four good players in this age group who would all go on to become NRL players. It was a really important piece of the puzzle.

“The bottom of that top 30 was just as important as the top. They had to be of the right age, have good physical traits and good kids too.”

Teague has impressed everyone at Redcliffe and thrown himself into pre-season training, earning his NRL debut from Bennett, who is notoriously protective of young players.

“Mase is on this team for a reason,” said startlock Tom Gilbert.

“There’s a reason he’s playing so early, and that’s because he’s ready. He’s been training extremely hard.

“He hasn’t played Q-Cup yet, he skipped that transition but he’s worked really hard and has a great attitude.

“He’s got a really good head. He’s a good person off the field and that means on the field too.

“He just wants to do his best and give himself to the team. That’s someone we’re really looking forward to playing with and seeing what he’s capable of.”

Originally posted as NRL 2023: Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett presents poached Panthers prodigy Mason Teague NRL debut NRL 2023 team news: Mason Teague Dolphins, Panthers debut

Ryan Sederquist

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