The Redcliffe Dolphins have bounced back from rock bottom in the Intrust Super Cup to now have a chance of winning a seventh title in a remarkable turnaround.
The defending premiers won just three of their opening 11 games, but have since won eight from 10 to be in seventh position and a chance to finish the season as high as sixth.
Since the statewide competition was formed in 1996, the Dolphins have played in 12 of the subsequent 23 grand finals and won six titles.
They also have claimed six minor premierships and set a high standard as the powerhouse club of the competition.
Success is expected at Redcliffe, but it was proving elusive after two months of the 2019 season.
How did they turn it around?
There are several factors – but coach Adam Mogg the return of star five-eighth Tyson Gamble from the Wests Tigers mid-season was certainly a major catalyst for change.
"Tyson has been a great addition to our footy team. He wasn’t happy in Sydney and given the June 30 deadline, we were pretty lucky that he was keen to come home," Mogg said.
"I just love his competitiveness and he’s a really good defender with a great kicking game. There are lots of things I like about his game.
"The longer he has been here the better we have been able to get with our attack and the other halves have been playing better as well."
The start of the year saw a plethora of team changes and it all contributed to the club’s slow start.
After losing a large chunk of their premiership side, the Dolphins roster underwent further upheaval with key injuries, including a season ending knee injury to inspirational half Cameron Cullen in the pre-season. Jayden Nikorima, another half, has played just four games this year due to injury.
"What that was doing was putting pressure on our first grade side and pressure on our BRL side, which was putting pressure on our Colts. It just flowed through our whole football club," Mogg said.
“We were three from 11 and not getting the wins and because we are defending premiers everyone turns up and plays their best footy.
"We are used to that, but we had so many kids in first grade playing their first game. By Round 9 or 10, we had used 34 players.
“It had a compound effect on us so we went through a pretty tough patch."
Despite being in a dire position on the ladder, Mogg didn’t panic. He knew the wheel would turn.
"From last year’s grand final team there are eight and nine who aren’t here, but our work ethic was great in the pre-season, so I knew the foundation was there,” Mogg said.
“We’d done our work as far as our loads and fitness were concerned but it was just about getting consistency and people on the park.”
"When you add Tyson Gamble into it, that has made a big difference."
The Dolphins have been without Broncos revelation Jake Turpin since Round 9, while Brisbane-contracted half Cory Paix has just returned after spending five weeks on the sideline through injury.
The 14-10 win over the Sunshine Coast in Round 15, the only loss suffered by the Falcons this year, was a major boost to the Dolphins’ confidence and a sign of what they will be capable of in the finals.
"It was a really good performance. I just challenged the players to see how good they could be physically and Tyson Gamble’s kicking game that night was outstanding,” Mogg said.
"We scrambled real well to stop a couple of Falcons tries and just showed up. It gave us a lot of confidence.
“We scored one try and kicked four penalty goals, but we were still a fair way off with our attack."
That was a good sign for the Dolphins because it indicated how much improvement they have in them.
The following week, they showed attacking skill and great character to fight back from 22-6 down in the 73rd minute to beat the Jets 24-22.
Winger Justice Utatao scored all three tries with centre Izaia Perese heavily involved in the leadup.
Perese, a former Queensland Reds star, recently made his NRL debut for Brisbane and has made a stunning 129 tackle busts in just 16 Intrust Super Cup games, while also scoring 10 tries.
"I spoke to Anthony Seibold earlier in the season about how Izzy needed to work on his game awareness,” Mogg said.
“No-one has taught Izzy how to carry the ball, because he is a natural at that. It is everything else away from the footy that he’s had to get better at.
"To his credit, he works hard at Broncos training and at ours. He is always looking to improve and it is a full credit to Izzy.
“He is really determined to not just be an NRL player, but a high quality player in the NRL. He sees himself as a really good NRL centre."
The Dolphins forwards have also come to the party with starting props Jordan Grant and Nathan Watts strong. Broncos-contracted forward Jamil Hopoate has also been on-song since moving from second-row to his preferred position of lock.
The Dolphins have not lost any of the games where Hopoate has been in the number 13 jersey since Round 14.
"We played Hoppa in the back-row at the start of the year, a position he wasn’t accustomed to after being lock forward of the year in the (Intrust Super) Cup," Mogg said.
"It was different defensively and Hoppa struggled with that at the start of the year but we got him back into lock forward and he has just been outstanding ever since."
The Dolphins will play finals football. Mogg said the Sunshine Coast were still "red hot favourites" to win the competition, but you would be a fool to write off Redcliffe.
The standards of excellence the club continues to set do not surprise former player and CEO James Hinchey. Hinchey was a premiership winning player in 1997 and 2000, and CEO of the football club from 2003 until 2008.
"The Dolphins are steeped in history and are a genuine football club. All the key stakeholders on the board and around the club are former football guys so they have got a really good handle on what makes good culture and how to foster that," Hinchey said.
"The way they approach anything they do is with a really high level of professionalism and that builds an environment for the players to be at their very best."
The history of the club is not lost on the playing group.
"And there is an expectation that comes with that. They expect success," Hinchey said.
"As an organisation, they accept that winning it every year is not an easy thing they do, but being competitive is. They work hard to make sure that they provide what the group needs to be able to be competitive every year."
The slow start to the season surprised Hinchey, but the club’s resurgence doesn’t.
"You have those periods where things don’t go your way, but the fact that they have been able to find their way out of that doesn’t surprise me at all,” Hinchey said.
"Hard times like they were going through at the start of the year, at that place, are often temporary."
As for winning another title in the new top eight finals series from outside the top four, Hinchey said that Redcliffe could not be discounted.
"The new format will be interesting. Wynnum under Paul Green won it from sixth previously so that would suggest it is possible to come from the bottom of the finals series and take it out," Hinchey said.
"To do it from seventh or eighth is a whole new proposition, but they have been walking the tightrope for some weeks now and have been able to perform under that pressure, so it is not out of the question."