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Bennett hopes Kaufusi first of many Maroons to join Dolphins

Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett plans to bring back "as many Queenslanders as I can" to the NRL's newest franchise after securing Storm forward Felise Kaufusi as his first signing on Friday.

The Dolphins announced Kaufusi's signature on a three-year deal from 2023 with the 29-year-old to complete his eighth and final season at Melbourne before joining the NRL's 17th team. 

Kaufusi has played his entire 152-game NRL career at the Storm with Bennett's link to the Maroons representative coming through their time spent at State of Origin level in 2020.

"I've got a lot of respect for him and watched him play a lot of football," Bennett said.

"He's a great professional. There's not a lot of work [to put in] for him to play well, he's just got that attitude.

"He's come out of a great system in Melbourne, they produce a lot of good players and good results.

"That's the type of person you want at clubs and in leadership groups."

Get to know the Dolphins

Kaufusi's signing is a coup for the expansion club, who have seen a few big names ink deals elsewhere in recent weeks.

Bennett wasn't shy in indicating his intention to bring further Queensland representatives from rivals back to the sunshine state in 2023 with several NRL clubs looking to lock in players in a current market frenzy.

The Dolphins have met with Kaufusi's team-mate Brandon Smith in recent weeks while Tino Fa'asuamaleaui also spoke to Bennett before eventually committing to stay at the Gold Coast until 2026.

"We're not going to get all Queensland players but I'd like to bring back as many as I can, they understand the state and what it all means," Bennett said.

"Not everybody will have played in grand finals and be a top-level player like [Kaufusi] is but we need a number of those players.

"They show the way and they set the standards. In the process of making decisions about who we need and who we'd like to have that becomes a part of the equation."

Dolphins' chief executive Terry Reader welcomed the signing of Kaufusi, who will bring a wealth of experience. 

"It is imperative the Dolphins build a squad that contains players of representative calibre and Felise certainly fits that mould," Reader said.

"He has played 12 Origin matches for Queensland as well as representing Australia, so will bring some important experience to the playing group we are building to debut in the competition.

"The fact that that he grew up in Bundaberg is also a positive for Queensland's newest professional sporting team.

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"Felise has been part of a very successful era for the Storm club in recent years, so we are excited about the leadership and strong work ethic he will bring to the Dolphins."

Storm general manager of football Frank Ponissi paid tribute to the service Kaufusi had given to the club.

"Felise has been such a wonderfully consistent and reliable player for us over his seven seasons," Ponissi said.

"He has represented our club with distinction on and off the field, featuring prominently in two premiership victories and finals campaigns in every season he's been with us.

The Cameron Smith legacy

Kaufusi said he was dedicated to making his last year at Storm a successful one.

"I'm really glad to have the opportunity to go back to AAMI Park and play in front of the home crowd again in 2022," he said.

"I certainly want to make the most of the last year and have to thank everyone at Storm for making the last seven seasons so memorable for me and family."