Bennett pledge inspired Kaufusi's Dolphins stunner
Felise Kaufusi has credited a stunning pledge by Wayne Bennett to pull the Dolphins jersey on himself and a trademark act by his former teammate Brandon "Cheese" Smith for inspiring his stellar display in the Dolphins' inaugural 28-18 win over the Sydney Roosters.
Second-rower Kaufusi's match-turning defensive display secured him the Artie Legacy Medal in honour of the late Arthur Beetson, who reached the greatest heights with the Dolphins and Roosters in his stellar career.
Trailing 12-6 at Suncorp Stadium, Kaufusi crunched Roosters hooker Smith, his former Melbourne teammate, and Roosters forward Egan Butcher. Both tackles secured turnovers, with the second leading to a Dolphins try on the cusp of half-time.
Smith had earlier goaded Kaufusi into conceding a penalty.
"I think I was a bit slack to start with but the Cheese got me a beauty. I get a bit hot headed and gave away a silly penalty and I guess that pissed me off," Kaufusi said.
"From there I wanted to go out and be aggressive and I think I did that. He poked the bear I guess and it was good to get one back on him."
Kaufusi was the Dolphins' first NRL signing in November, 2021. At the time, and since, the new club missed key targets, and were reminded of it constantly in the media.
"It was quite funny because I had a phone call with Wayne after I signed," Kaufusi recalled.
"Other players weren't coming and he said, 'If I have to play, I will put on a jumper'. That gave me confidence.
"The media was going, 'You didn't get this person or this person', but he just reassured me that it doesn't matter who we get. He will put people in there that are going to compete. That is all I worried about."
As a proud Queenslander, receiving the medal struck in Beetson's memory was inspirational for Kaufusi.
"And to be given it by one of his sons was more special. It is something I will frame, up along with my debut jersey, and will put up in the board room," he said.
The medal was significant for another reason considering Kaufusi wore the number 11 for the Dolphins.
"It is all just sinking in. The emotions are pretty high but that is the number that Artie wore in his first Origin," he said.
"That gave me goosebumps too."
Kaufusi, a firebrand on the field but mild mannered off it, said he regretted standing over Butcher "like a pork chop" and letting him know about the hit he put on him before half-time.
"I got a bit carried away there. I am not one to gloat or stand over," Kaufusi said.
"My emotions got the better of me. I like tackling hard and competing. If I had my time again I wouldn't stand over him like I did. It was pretty poor on my behalf."