The countdown to the 2024 season is on with just 11 weeks to go.
Just about every big-name player has returned to pre-season training by now, while the not-so-lucky guys on the cusp of first grade have been sweating it out since the first week of November.
Away from the training paddock each club’s recruitment team is busy building the squad that they think can challenge for the premiership next year.
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Some clubs have nailed the balance of experience, youth and the necessary starpower while still having room in their Top 30 for late signings.
But others still need to fill holes left by departing players and build genuine depth in the wider squad.
Foxsports.com.au has dissected every club’s roster to predict who, on paper, looks to be prepared for anything and who still has some work to do before the season kicks off on March 3.
Halves: Adam Reynolds, Ezra Mam, Jock Madden
Hooker: Billy Walters, Cory Paix, Tyson Smoothy, Blake Mozer
Fullback: Reece Walsh, Tristan Sailor
Wing: Selwyn Cobbo, Corey Oates, Jesse Arthars (also centre), Deine Mariner (also centre), Jordan Pereira
Centre: Kotoni Staggs, Delouise Hoeter
Prop: Payne Haas, Fletcher Baker, Martin Taupau, Corey Jensen, Xavier Willison, Ben Te Kura, Jaiyden Hunt (also second row)
Second row: Jordan Riki, Brendan Piakura
Lock: Patrick Carrigan, Kobe Hetherington
Spots left in Top 30: 3
Supplementary players: Coby Black (halfback), Israel Leota (wing), Josh Rogers (five-eighth)
Reserves report: The Broncos’ reserve grade structure will look a little different next season. The club has lost Norths Devils as a feeder club to cross-town rivals, the Dolphins, after a 16-year partnership. Norths won back-to-back premierships in 2021 and 2022 while affiliated with the Broncos. But they’ve added last season’s minor premiers and grand finalists Burleigh Bears to the stable, joining the other two affiliate clubs Wynnum Manly Seagulls and Souths Logan Magpies. The Magpies have locked in several youngsters from the 2023 squad as well as veteran players Isaac Luke and Albert Kelly, while also recruiting halfback Brandon Finnegan from Mackay. Ethan Quai-Ward also returns to the Broncos system via the Magpies after a stint with the Bulldogs. The Seagulls have been busy in the player market too adding a three-time Queensland Cup premiership-winner to their squad in centre Connor Broadhurst, former Panthers playmaker Kurt Falls and Zac Hetherington — the twin of Kobe. As for Burleigh, not only have they re-signed coach Luke Burt for a further three seasons, but the club has locked in veteran hooker Pat Politoni and halfback Guy Hamilton, who topped Queensland Cup in try assists and linebreak assists in 2023.
Verdict: Manageable. The Broncos were already lacking in the second row and the early exit of Kurt Capewell has exposed that even more. The good thing is the club still has room in both the Top 30 and on its supplementary list to fill that void before Round 1. New recruit Jaiyden Hunt has played majority of his footy in the middle but does have the ability to shift to an edge — which is a reason why he was signed — but it’s still an area that needs a lot more depth. Tom Flegler and Herbie Farnworth are big losses, but at least Fletcher Baker has come into the forward pack… although he does have big shoes to fill. At this stage coach Kevin Walters will look to either youngster Deine Mariner, Delouise Hoeter or Jesse Arthars to slot in at centre, however the latter finished 2023 as a first choice winger. The spine is booming though with Adam Reynolds, Ezra Mam, Reece Walsh and Billy Walters all coming off their best season to date. Meanwhile, back-up spine players Jock Madden, Tristan Sailor and Cory Paix have all proven they can slot in seamlessly when called upon.
Halves: Jamal Fogarty, Ethan Strange (also centre), Simi Sasagi (also centre)
Hooker: Tom Starling, Danny Levi, Zac Woolford
Fullback: Xavier Savage, Sebastian Kris (also centre), Chevy Stewart, Kaeo Weekes (also halves)
Wing: Jordan Rapana (also fullback), Nick Cotric, Albert Hopoate (also centre), James Schiller
Centre: Matt Timoko
Prop: Joseph Tapine (also lock), Josh Papalii, Ata Mariota, Emre Guler, Pasami Saulo, Peter Hola, Trey Mooney
Second row: Elliott Whitehead, Hudson Young
Lock: Corey Horsburgh, Hohepa Puru, Morgan Smithies
Spots left in Top 30: 2
Supplementary players: Adrian Trevilyan (hooker), Noah Martin (second row), Troy Dargan (halfback), Michael Asomua (wing/centre), Vena Patuki-Case (prop)
Reserves report: The Raiders have been using New South Wales Cup as an opportunity to fast-track the development of some exciting youngsters and to their credit the team was not only competitive in 2023, but also made it to week two of the finals. Several of the players signed on a NSW Cup contract for 2024 will get a lot out of the opportunity to train full-time with the NRL Squad in the lead-up to Christmas, while development players Adrian Trevilyan and Troy Dargan — who both NRL experience — will be the backbone of the team next year.
Verdict:Needs work. Canberra has a lot to offer up front between NRL mainstays Joe Tapine, Josh Papali’i and Corey Horsburgh among others and there’s also some exciting talent pushing for more opportunities like Hohepa Puru and Ata Mariota, who will be ready to take on more responsibilities if needed. The squad could do with another specialist second-rower though. The big concern is the backline, particularly fullback and the halves. Coach Ricky Stuart played around with his fullback options at the back end of last season, while the departure of Jack Wighton and back-up playmaker Matt Frawley has left a gaping hole in the halves. There’s certainly options but no clear-cut answer just yet — at least from the outside looking in. New recruit Kaeo Weekes fell out of favour at Manly and is now battling for either Canberra’s No.1 or No.6 jersey. Ethan Strange is expected to get an opportunity at five-eighth, but if that doesn’t work out he can fill in at centre — where he debuted last season — given the squad is lacking depth there too. Seb Kris played majority of last season at fullback, but finished it in the centres and on the wing. Then there’s Xavier Savage and 18-year-old whiz kid Chevy Stewart, who Stuart has already hinted could get some time at fullback in 2024 after being upgraded to the Top 30. There’s talent to choose from but hardly any experience. Rolling the dice on youth will pay off in the long run, but there’s bound to be some growing pains.
Halves: Matt Burton, Toby Sexton, Drew Hutchison, Karl Oloapu (also lock), Bailey Biondi-Odo (also hooker)
Hooker: Reed Mahoney, Jake Turpin
Fullback: Blake Taaffe (also halves), Connor Tracey (also halves, centre, wing), Hayze Perham (also halves, centre, wing)
Wing: Josh Addo-Carr, Blake Wilson, Jeral Skelton
Centre: Stephen Crichton (also fullback), Bronson Xerri, Jacob Kiraz (also wing), Jordan Samrani
Prop: Max King,Chris Patolo, Ryan Sutton (also lock), Liam Knight (also lock), Sam Hughes
Second row: Jacob Preston, Viliame Kikau, Jaeman Salmon (also halves), Raymond Faitala-Mariner (also lock), Jackson Topine, Kitione Kautoga, Zac Montgomery
Lock: Josh Curran (also second row), Kurt Mann (also halves)
Spots left in Top 30: 0
Supplementary players: Bailey Hayward (halves), Joseph O’Neill (halves), Joash Papalii (fullback), Kurtis Morrin (lock), Poasa Faamausili (prop), Michael Gabrael (centre)*
Reserves report: The Bulldogs had one of the strongest NSW Cup sides in the first half of last season but crumbled when it mattered most and missed out on finals. The team provided good support though for the NRL squad with the likes of Blake Wilson, Jeral Skelton, Khaled Rajab and Sam Hughes getting called into first grade. The experienced Mick Potter has taken the coaching reins for 2024 and will work closely with NRL coach Cameron Ciraldo to ensure there’s a connection between the two teams. Majority of the squad has been re-signed, while development players Joash Papalii and Joseph O’Neill are expected to play a bigger role after getting a good taste of Cup in 2023.
Verdict: Needs work. When it comes to injuries, the Bulldogs are well-covered after signing a number of utility players for 2024. But there’s an alarming shortage of genuine middle forwards on the books. The club has lost props Tevita Pangai Junior, Luke Thompson and Franklin Pele, while Corey Waddell also spent time in the middle. 10 players have been recruited for next season and only one is a prop — Poasa Faamausili — but he is on a development contract so can’t play first grade until Round 11. What’s even more alarming is that there’s no room left in the Top 30 so unless a player is offloaded before Round 1, this is what the Dogs will be working with.
Halves: Nicho Hynes, Braydon Trindall, Niwhai Puru
Hooker: Blayke Brailey, Jayden Berrell
Fullback: Will Kennedy, Kade Dykes (also halves), Daniel Atkinson (also halves)
Wing: Ronaldo Mulitalo, Sione Katoa, Samuel Stonestreet, Siteni Taukamo (wing/centre)
Centre: Jesse Ramien, Siosifa Talakai (also second row), Kayal Iro, Michael Gabrael
Prop: Braden Hamlin-Uele, Dale Finucane (also lock), Toby Rudolf, Oregon Kaufusi, Royce Hunt, Tom Hazelton, Jesse Colquhoun (also second row)
Second row: Briton Nikora, Teig Wilton, Billy Burns
Lock: Cameron McInnes (also hooker), Jack Williams (also prop/second row)
Spots left in Top 30: 2
Supplementary players: Dylan Coutts (second row), Liam Ison (fullback), Mawene Hiroti (fullback/centre/winger), Max Bradbury (prop), Tuku Hau Tapuha (prop)
Reserves report: After just missing out on the grand final last year, the Sharks’ NSW Cup side, Newtown Jets, slipped back in 2023 to finish sixth and miss finals. But there was always going to be a little bit of growing pain in George Ndaira’s first season as head coach after taking the reins from long-time coach Greg Matterson. Regulars Kayal Iro, Jayden Berrell and Daniel Atkinson will feature heavily again in 2024 and Kade Dykes will return from an ACL injury to either play fullback or five-eighth. New Sharks recruit Michael Gabriel is expected to get time in NSW Cup after making the move from the Bulldogs on a Top 30 deal. Billy Burns was one of the Dragons’ best in NSW Cup last year and will be crucial for the Jets next season. But the pack has lost some size in Caleb Uele — brother of Braden — who has signed with UK club Trinity.
Verdict: Manageable. The Sharks boast plenty of experience and depth in the forward pack and the addition of specialist second-rower Billy Burns is a handy pick-up to support Briton Nikora and Teig Wilton. As for the spine, Kade Dykes is expected to be fully recovered from an ACL injury by the season’s start so fullback is well-covered, while reserve grade veteran Jayden Berrell is ready to go should Blayke Brailey need a spell. The halves is an area that needs attention though following the departure of Matt Moylan and the versatile Connor Tracey. 21-year-old Niwhai Puru is a serious talent but still has some work to do defensively so may not be the safest option as a back-up just yet. Dykes and Daniel Atkinson have spent time in the halves at Cup level but they only have two games of NRL experience each.
Halves: Sean O’Sullivan, Isaiya Katoa, Anthony Milford, Kodi Nikorima (also fullback), Max Plath (also lock)
Hooker: Jeremy Marshall-King, Harrison Graham
Fullback: Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (also centre)
Wing: Jamayne Isaako, Edrick Lee, Jack Bostock (also centre), Robert Jennings, Tesi Niu (also centre)
Centre: Herbie Farnworth, Jake Averillo (also fullback), Euan Aitken (also second row), Valynce Te Whare
Prop: Tom Flegler, Jarrod Wallace, Jesse Bromwich, Josh Kerr, Mark Nicholls
Second row: Felise Kaufusi, Kenny Bromwich, Connelly Lemuelu, Oryn Keely
Lock: Tom Gilbert, Ray Stone, Mason Teague (also second row)
Spots left in Top 30: 1
Supplementary players: James Walsh (second row), Jeremiah Simbiken (second row), Kurt Donoghoe (five-eighth/hooker/lock), Max Plath (five-eighth/lock), Michael Waqa (prop), Ryan Jackson (prop)
Reserves report: The Dolphins have boosted their depth big time by linking up with Norths Devils to go from two Queensland Cup feeder clubs (Redcliffe Dolphins and CQ Capras) to three in 2024.Utility back Jordan Lipp, five-eighth Gerome Burns, former Wests Tigers prop Tuki Simpkins and former Knights forward Cooper Jenkins have signed with Norths but will spend the summer training with the Dolphins NRL squad. Hooker Trey Browne, five-eighth Aaron Moore and lock Lachlan Hubner are doing a Dolphin pre-season via the Capras. Meanwhile, Dolphins Queensland Cup-contracted players winger Brenton Baira and fullback Trai Fuller, who made his NRL debut last season, are also with the first grade squad over the summer. Prop Max Bailey, who won Best and Fairest with Sunshine Coast this year has signed with Redcliffe’s Cup side but is also doing a pre-season with the NRL squad.
Verdict: Ready to go.The Dolphins are well-balanced heading into 2024 and still have the luxury of two spots available in the Top 30. The addition of Herbie Farnworth and Jake Averillo to the backline is huge especially given both can cover fullback and Averillo also has experience in the halves. Tom Flegler has added some youth up front and created serious competition for spots. Kodi Nikorima will be key to the Dolphins’ depth once again after slotting in at five-eighth, fullback, hooker and centre this year. But it could be wise to add another genuine hooker to the top squad just in case Jeremy Marshall-King has any issues after his shoulder reconstruction.
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Halves: Kieran Foran, Tanah Boyd, Thomas Weaver
Hooker: Sam Verrills, Chris Randall
Fullback: AJ Brimson, Jayden Campbell (also halves), Keano Kini
Wing: Phillip Sami, Alofiana Khan-Pereira, Jojo Fifita (also centre), Ken Maumalo, Tony Francis
Centre: Aaron Schoupp (also second row), Brian Kelly, Harley Smith-Shields
Prop: Tino Fa’asuamaleaui (also lock), Moeaki Fotuaika, Jaimin Jolliffe, Keenan Palasia, Iszac Fa’asuamaleaui, Josiah Pahulu
Second row: David Fifita, Beau Fermor, Joe Stimson, Klese Haas, Ryan Foran
Lock: Isaac Liu (also prop), Erin Clark (also hooker)
Spots left in Top 30: 1
Supplementary players: Arama Hau (prop/second row), Ben Liyou (prop), Jaylan de Groot (fullback/wing), Oskar Bryant (hooker), Ryder Williams (halves), Seth Nikotemo (second row)
Reserves report: The Titans’ depth beyond the Top 30 and supplementary list has taken a big hit with Queensland Cup feeder side Burleigh Bears cutting ties to link up with the Broncos. Looking even further down the line, renowned rugby league school Keebra Park State High also ended its partnership with the Titans to sign on with the Rabbitohs. But in some good news, the club extended its affiliation with Tweed Seagulls until the end of 2025 and has struck up a new partnership with the Ipswich Jets.Ipswich have struggled in Queensland Cup lately, recording just seven wins over the last three seasons, while Tweed missed finals this year.
Verdict:Manageable. The Titans might just have the best depth at fullback in the competition. AJ Brimson and Jayden Campbell are battling for the No.1 jersey, while 19-year-old Keano Kini has shone every time he’s gotten an opportunity in first grade. Harley Smith-Shields’ addition has added some handy depth to the outside backs, while Keenan Palasia will create competition up front after making the switch from the Broncos. With one spot remaining, new coach Des Hasler should consider finding an NRL-ready second-rower following David Fifita’s pectoral injury. The 23-year-old suffered a partial tear, which requires surgery. He is aiming to be ready for the early rounds of next season but given it’s such a delicate injury there’ll be no rushing him back. Alternatively, another half could be wise to give veteran Kieran Foran a spell when he needs one.
Halves: Daly Cherry-Evans, Luke Brooks, Jake Arthur, Jamie Humphreys (also hooker)
Hooker: Lachlan Croker, Gordon Chan Kum Tong
Fullback: Tom Trbojevic
Wing: Reuben Garrick (also fullback), Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Clayton Faulalo, Jaxson Paulo, Ray Vaega
Centre: Brad Parker, Tolutau Koula (also fullback), Tommy Talau
Prop: Taniela Paseka, Toafofa Sipley, Matt Lodge, Ben Condon (also second row)
Second row: Haumole Olakau’atu, Josh Schuster (also halves), Ben Trbojevic, Corey Waddell (also prop), Ethan Bullemor, Karl Lawton (also hooker)
Lock: Jake Trbojevic (also prop), Josh Aloiai (also prop), Zac Fulton
Spots left in Top 30: 1
Supplementary players: Aitasi James (prop), Bailey Hodgson (fullback), Dean Matterson (lock/second row/halves), Lehi Hopoate (fullback)
Reserves report: Manly’s New South Wales Cup feeder side, Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles, made the finals last season for the first time since joining the competition in 2017. But the team has lost several key players ahead of 2024 including fullback Jake Toby, who led the team in try assists and linebreak assists last season. They’ve recruited a couple of forwards for the part-time squad though including former Bear Ben Seufale, while Brad Abbey has re-signed for 2024
Verdict: Manageable. Josh Schuster’s move back to the second row has Manly sitting pretty in edge forwards. But it’s not so stacked for the middles. Either Josh Aloiai or Jake Trbojevic will start at prop in Round 1 along with Taniela Paseka but beyond them there’s only a couple of versatile forwards in Corey Waddell and Ben Condon that can provide back-up in the early rounds. Matt Lodge will miss the opening month of the season due to the knee injury he suffered in August but even when he returns the team could still do with another addition to the engine room. Veteran prop Aaron Woods is still at the club but can’t play until Round 11 given he’s on a train-and-trial contract. Nathan Brown is also on a train-and-trial contract and so are props Austin Dias and Jacob Sykes, who played for Blacktown last season. Jake Arthur is on deck for when Daly Cherry-Evans heads into Origin camp, Gordon Chan Kum Tong can cover for Lachlan Croker and Tommy Talau’s arrival has created serious competition in the outside backs. While Tom Trbojevic is the only specialist fullback in the Top 30, Reuben Garrick and Tolu Koula have proven they are more than capable of filling in if needed. But moving either of them means more disruption to the backline.
Halves: Cameron Munster, Jahrome Hughes, Jonah Pezet, Tyran Wishart (also hooker)
Hooker: Harry Grant, Bronson Garlick
Fullback: Ryan Papenhuyzen, Nick Meaney
Wing: Will Warbrick, Xavier Coates, Dean Ieremia
Centre: Justin Olam, Reimis Smith (also wing), Marion Seve, Young Tonumaipea
Prop: Christian Welch, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Tui Kamikamica, Aaron Pene, Tepai Moeroa,
Second row: Eli Katoa, Chris Lewis, Trent Loiero, Jack Howarth, Joe Chan
Lock: Josh King, Alec MacDonald
Spots left in Top 30: 3
Supplementary players: Ammaron Gudgeon (fullback), Kane Bradley (centre/wing), Lazarus Vaalepu (prop), Sualauvi Fa’alogo (fullback), Tristan Powell (prop)
Reserves report: The club has made a major power move ahead of 2024 by linking up with the North Sydney Bears. It not only means Craig Bellamy has access to Queensland Cup-based players via the Sunshine Coast Falcons and Brisbane Tigers, but he also now has access to New South Wales talent via the Bears. North Sydney have consistently been one of the strongest teams in NSW Cup and arguably recruit the best part-time players each year. The new partnership has seen livewire fullback Jake Toby — a new Bears recruit — five-eighth Jesse Marschke and workhorse forward Regan Hughes take up train-and-trial opportunities with the Storm over the summer. Meanwhile, the Brisbane Tigers are flying high after breaking a 32-year premiership drought in 2023 and as a result hooker Tristan Hope and second-rower Thomas Rafter have landed train-and-trial deals with the Storm. The Falcons are looking strong too after recruiting giant prop Caius Faatili as well as former Souths Logan half Jack Campagnolo. Both are also training with the first grade squad over the summer.
Verdict: Manageable. The Storm have arguably the best spine in the competition but all that money tied up in the likes of Cameron Munster, Jahrome Hughes and Harry Grant means other positions may suffer. But the Storm has a knack of getting the most out of their players. The halves are stacked with young gun Jonah Pezet and the versatile Tyran Wishart capable of filling in, while Wishart can also help out at hooker along with Bronson Garlick — who has experience in the second row too. Then there’s Nick Meaney, who can basically fill any position in the backline. But yet the outside back options still seem a little slim — especially if the Wests Tigers start chasing Justin Olam again.Eli Katoa and Trent Loiero will likely start in the second row, as they did last season, but that is an area that could do with some beefing up — especially considering Joe Chan was being used as a middle forward off the bench in Queensland Cup and Jack Howarth has just one NRL game under his belt. Having three reserve grade feeder sides will come in handy for the Storm.
Halves: Jackson Hastings, Tyson Gamble, Jack Cogger, Ryan Rivett
Hooker: Jayden Brailey, Phoenix Crossland, Riley Jones
Fullback: Kalyn Ponga, David Armstrong, Will Pryce (also five-eighth)
Wing: Greg Marzhew, Thomas Jenkins (also centre)
Centre: Bradman Best, Dane Gagai, Enari Tuala (also wing), Krystian Mapapalangi
Prop: Daniel Saifiti, Jacob Saifiti, Leo Thompson, Jack Hetherington, Paul Bryan
Second row: Tyson Frizell, Jed Cartwright, Brodie Jones, Dylan Lucas, Kai Pearce-Paul
Lock: Adam Elliott, Mat Croker, Myles Martin
Spots left in Top 30: 1
Supplementary players: Fletcher Sharpe (fullback), Sebastian Su’a (prop), Thomas Cant (second row/lock), Zach Herring (halves)
Reserves report: Mass changes could be afoot for the NSW Cup team following a disappointing 2023 season. Not only does the team have a new coach in Ronald Griffiths — who guided the Knights’ NRLW side to back-to-back premierships. But the club has one of the bigger lists of train-and-trial players, most of which will filter down to part-time Cup and Jersey Flegg contracts. Lebanon international Jaxson Rahme is one train-and-trialist after switching from the Rabbitohs and former Raider Clay Webb, who was named at second row for the NSW Cup Team of the Year, is also spending the summer with the NRL squad.
Verdict: Ready to go. The Knights might not boast the most star-studded squad but it’s arguably one of the most well-balanced in the competition at this stage. Every position has at least one genuine back-up, while the addition of Jack Cogger and the return of Jayden Brailey is going to create some serious selection headaches in the spine. The club is somewhat rolling the dice at fullback though with David Armstrong and Will Pryce the only understudies for Kalyn Ponga. Armstrong, 22, oozes talent but has no NRL experience — and only began playing NSW Cup late last year. 21-year-old Pryce made his English Super League debut at just 18-years old and was chased by a few NRL clubs but there’s no shying away from the fact there’s a big difference in quality between the two competitions. Lachlan Fitzgibbon’s vacant second row spot is up for grabs and new recruit Jed Cartwright will battle it out with the versatile Brodie Jones and up-and-coming Dylan Lucas for the first opportunity. When Kai Pearce-Paul returns from a toe injury in the opening rounds, the competition will heat up even more. Tom Jenkins was a must-signing given Dom Young has departed but it wouldn’t hurt using the final Top 30 spot on another outside back that has experience at fullback.
Halves: Chad Townsend, Tom Dearden, Jake Clifford, Thomas Duffy
Hooker: Reece Robson, Jake Granville (also lock)
Fullback: Scott Drinkwater (also halves), Tom Chester
Wing: Murray Taulagi, Kyle Feldt, Semi Valemei, Robert Derby
Centre: Valentine Holmes (also wing/fullback), Viliami Vailea, Zac Laybutt
Prop: Coen Hess (also second row), Griffin Neame, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, Jordan McLean, Sam McIntyre (also lock/second row)
Second row: Heilum Luki, Jeremiah Nanai, Luciano Leilua, Kulikefu Finefeuiaki, Jack Gosieswki, D’Jazirhae Pua’Avase
Lock: Jason Taumalolo (also prop), Reuben Cotter (also prop)
Spots left in Top 30: 2
Supplementary players: Emarly Bitungane (prop/second row), Jai Hansen (hooker), Jamal Shibasaki (second row), Jodeci Baker-Tiraha (wing/centre/fullback), Kaiden Lahrs (prop), Thomas Mikaele (prop)
Reserves report: There’s been a lot of changes to feeder sides ahead of 2024 and the Cowboys are one of the clubs that’s come out worse off having lost the Townsville Blackhawks to the Rabbitohs. It essentially means the Cowboys will have access to less part-time players that could be developed into NRL players. But on the flip side, it will make the two remaining feeder teams — Northern Pride and Mackay Cutters — more competitive because there’s now only two teams to share the Top 30 players when they drop back. Pride were knocked out in week one of finals this year by a golden point field goal and are expected to be in the mix again in 2024 after signing hooker Kyle Schneider from Mackay and reigning Hastings Deering Colts Player of the Year Lachlan West — a fullback — from the Brisbane Tigers. Both are also on train-and-trial opportunities with the Cowboys. Mackay have signed up-and-coming prop John Radel from Wynnum Manly and he is one of five players on a train-and-trial via the Cutters.
Verdict: Ready to go. Just like the Knights, the Cowboys have both options and plenty of back-up in every position. Jake Clifford — who has returned to Australia from a Super League stint — is a clever signing and will keep the pressure on veteran halfback Chad Townsend, while the emergence of Kulikefu Finefeuiaki is going to give coach Todd Payten some good selection headaches in the second row. Tom Chester is hoping to be available in the early rounds following an ACL injury and could push for the bench utility role when he’s not required to fill in for Scott Drinkwater. The pack is intimidating on paper and the versatility of Reuben Cotter and Coen Hess is a big plus. The Cowboys have the luxury of two free spots in their Top 30 and perhaps one could be used on another centre, which would come in handy when Valentine Holmes is away on Origin duties.
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Halves: Dylan Brown, Mitchell Moses, Daejarn Asi (also centre/fullback)
Hooker: Joey Lussick, Brendan Hands (also halves/lock)
Fullback: Clint Gutherson
Wing: Haze Dunster, Maika Sivo, Sean Russell (also fullback)
Centre: Bailey Simonsson (also wing), Morgan Harper, Will Penisini, Zac Cini (also fullback)
Prop: Junior Paulo, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Makahesi Makatoa, Ofahiki Ogden, Wiremu Greig, Jirah Momoisea (also second row), Ky Rodwell
Second row: Shaun Lane, Bryce Cartwright, Ryan Matterson (also lock) Kelma Tuilagi, Matt Doorey, Toni Mataele
Lock: J’maine Hopgood, Joe Ofahengaue (also prop), Tevita Taumoepenu (also prop)
Spots left in Top 30: 1
Supplementary players: Charlie Guymer (second row), Ethan Sanders (halves), Jock Brazel (second row), Luca Moretti (lock/second row), Sam Tuivaiti (prop)
Reserves report: The Eels’ NSW Cup side struggled with consistency in 2023 and has copped a major leadership blow with veteran playmaker Jordan Rankin hanging up his boots. With so much depth in the forwards in the Top 30, the Cup side should have plenty of experience up front. Dan Keir will also benefit from a pre-season train-and-trial with the NRL squad. The 25-year-old was a key member of the Cup side this year, playing lock, second row, centre and five-eighth. The Eels will likely use Cup to fast-track the development of the club’s young talent again with Richard Penisini and Matt Arthur a chance of getting more opportunities — especially after spending the summer with the NRL squad on a train-and-trial.
Verdict:Ready to go. Injuries and suspensions hurt the Eels in the forwards last season with Shaun Lane, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Ryan Matterson only managing 10, 14 and 18 games each respectively. But they’re well-equipped to handle just about anything heading into next season. Kelma Tuilagi’s signature is a handy addition when it comes to depth, while Wiremu Greig’s development will keep competition for spots up front red-hot. Daejarn Asi has proven he can be the team’s back-up in the halves and the mid-season recruitment of Joey Lussick has proven to be crucial given Josh Hodgson’s retirement. But with one spot left in the Top 30 it might be wise to consider another specialist hooker. Playing 80 minutes every week in the NRL is a tough ask for Lussick — especially when he’s never spent a full season at NRL level — which is why Brendan Hands could land the bench utility role. If one of them goes down injured though, it could spell disaster in such a key position. Alternatively, a specialist fullback that can also cover the outside backs could be an option too. Clint Gutherson will push through any niggle but a straight swap for any him when — if ever — needed would mean minimal disruption to the backline.
Halves: Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, Brad Schneider, Jack Cole (also centre)
Hooker: Mitch Kenny, Soni Luke
Fullback: Dylan Edwards, Daine Laurie
Wing: Brian To’o, Sunia Turuva, Jesse McLean (also centre/fullback), Taylan May (also centre)
Centre: Izack Tago, Paul Alamoti, Tyrone Peachey (also halves/lock)
Prop: James Fisher-Harris, Moses Leota, Lindsay Smith, Liam Henry, Ativalu Lisati
Second row: Liam Martin, Scott Sorensen, Luke Garner, Zac Hosking, Maverik Geyer, Harrison Hassett
Lock: Isaah Yeo, Matt Eisenhuth (also prop)
Spots left in Top 30: 2
Supplementary players: Isaiah Iongi (fullback), Luke Sommerton (hooker), Preston Riki (second row/lock), Riley Price (prop/second row/lock)
Reserves report: After winning the NSW Cup premiership and State Championship in 2022, the Panthers’ dropped down the ladder this year and missed finals. But it was an important season for the likes of Luke Sommerton and Isaiah Iongi, who nailed down a regular spot in the squad — and were rewarded with development deals for 2024. Winger Daeon Amituanai and half Trent Toelau also got plenty of game time and are spending the summer with the NRL squad on a train-and-trial. Those players will benefit greatly from the experience. The Cup team has lost valuable experience in halfback Kurt Falls, who will play Queensland Cup next season, and veteran forward Chris Smith, but Brad Schneider, Daine Laurie and Matt Eisenhuth are among the players that will drop back when the first grade team is at full strength.
Verdict: Ready to go. As expected the three-peat champions’ production line keeps on rolling. Despite losing Stephen Crichton, Spencer Leniu, Jaeman Salmon and Jack Cogger among others, there’s no glaring hole in the roster. Brad Schneider has been brought back to the NRL to be the back-up playmaker, while Jack Cole is a Matt Burton 2.0 so can play five-eighth and centre — he’ll even contend for Crichton’s old spot. Daine Laurie has returned to the club and can step right in if anything happens to Dylan Edwards and new recruit Paul Alamoti provides depth in the centres. Taylan May is back on deck from an ACL injury and is proven on the wing, but has his sights set on shifting to the centre and then there’s Tyrone Peachey, who has been thrown into every single position except wing and halfback over his 11-year career. Leniu has left big shoes to fill but Liam Henry — a NSW Cup Prop of the Year — and Ativalu Liasati have been upgraded to the Top 30 with the former expected to get first shot at Leniu’s spot. The Panthers have also added Riley Price to the selection of forwards. Luke Sommerton has been rewarded with a development deal and from Round 11, Ivan Cleary will have three specialist hookers to choose from. Cleary and his recruitment team still have two spots in the Top 30 to fill and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of the development players upgraded given the club likes to actively look to promote from within. But if they do go to market, an older outside back’s experience could come in handy.
Halves: Cody Walker, Lachlan Ilias, Dean Hawkins, Jye Gray
Hooker: Damien Cook, Peter Mamouzelos, Siliva Havili (aso lock)
Fullback: Latrell Mitchell (also centre)
Wing: Alex Johnston (also fullback),Izaac Tui’itupou Thompson, Taane Milne (also centre), Tyrone Munro, Leon Te Hau
Centre: Jack Wighton (also halves), Campbell Graham, Isaiah Tass
Prop: Tevita Tatola, Tom Burgess, Jai Arrow (also lock/second row), Sean Keppie, Daniel Suluka Fifita, Davvy Moale
Second row: Keaon Koloamatangi, Jacob Host, Michael Chee Kam,Ben Lovett
Lock: Cameron Murray,Tallis Duncan
Spots left in Top 30: 1
Supplementary players: Thomas Fletcher (second row), Jacob Gagai (fullback/centre), Richie Kennar (wing), Dion Teaupa (halves), Haizyn Mellars (wing), Liam Le Blanc (lock)
Reserves report: South Sydney have been busy investing in pathways and are beginning to reap the rewards. Not only did the club win the NSW Cup premiership and State Championship this year, but it announced a three-year partnership with renowned rugby league high school Keebra Park. The Rabbitohs have also locked in an affiliation with Townsville Blackhawks in the Queensland Cup with four players joining the Bunnies during pre-season on a train-and-trial. One of the NSW Cup’s most consistent players, Jacob Gagai, has been rewarded with a development deal, while veteran forward Brock Gray is on a train-and-trial. Yileen Gordon has put retirement on hold for another year and is returning to play Cup in 2024 and experienced outside back Braidon Burns is returning to the club.
Verdict: Ready to go. The Rabbitohs have got a good balance between NRL-ready backups and up-and-coming talent in their squad. Dean Hawkins has plenty of reserve grade experience under his belt, while teenager Jye Gray is the future in the halves. Siliva Havili can easily jump in for Damien Cook, or there’s Cook’s heir apparent Peter Mamouzelos. The one spine position that is lacking depth though is fullback. South Sydney said goodbye to Blake Taaffe, who has filled in for Latrell Mitchell on several occasions — including the 2021 finals series — but have not recruited a specialist fullback. Alex Johnston and Jack Wighton can easily play there but that means disrupting the backline even more if Mitchell is out. Wighton’s high profile club switch has created serious competition in the centres, while four — possibly even five — are battling for the right wing spot. Sean Keppie’s signature is important given Hame Sele’s departure and Jai Arrow’s versatility in the forwards is sometimes underrated, but crucial especially when the squad is a little light on second-rowers.
Halves: Ben Hunt, Talatau Amone, Kyle Flanagan (also hooker), Paul Turner
Hooker: Jacob Liddle
Fullback: Tyrell Sloan, Cody Ramsey, Corey Allan (also centre/wing)
Wing: Mikaele Ravalawa, Mat Feagai, Sione Finau
Centre: Moses Suli, Zac Lomax, Max Feagai, Savelio Tamale, Jack Bird (also second row/lock)
Prop: Blake Lawrie, Francis Molo, Hame Sele, Michael Molo (also lock), Alec Tuitavake, Toby Couchman, Viliami Fifita
Second row: Jaydn Su’A, Dan Russell, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Tom Eisenhuth
Lock: Jack de Belin, Ryan Couchman (also second row)
Spots left in Top 30: 1
Supplementary players: Connor Muhleisen (hooker), Cory Ackers (lock), Dylan Egan (second row), Hamish Stewart (prop), Jackson Shereb (second row), Josh Coric (lock)
Reserves report: It was a tough year for the Dragons in NSW Cup. The team couldn’t string more than three consecutive wins together and finished 10th (fourth last). It could get even tougher having lost a stack of regulars in fullback Treight Stewart (Sunshine Coast Falcons), half Zach Herring (Knights), goalkicking winger Alexander Lobb (Tigers) and forwards Nick Lui-Toso (Tigers) and Jaiyden Hunt (Broncos). There’ll be a fair share of young Top 30 talent dropping back though between Sione Finau, Savelio Tamale, Viliame Fifita and Alec Tuitavake that’ll give the Dragons a bit of x-factor. Local juniors Dylan Egan and Jackson Shereb will benefit from training full time with the NRL squad and will get a lot more game time in Cup next season, while workhorse hooker Connor Muhleisen will likely hold a leadership role.
Verdict: Needs work. New coach Shane Flanagan will be sweating on the NRL’s verdict on Talatau Amone following his sentencing for a hammer attack. The 21-year-old escaped jail but was sentenced to a two-year intensive corrections order, to be served in the community. If he is stood down from playing, Flanagan’s halves depth will cop a big hit. Kyle Flanagan can step straight in to partner Ben Hunt but if there’s any injuries in the halves or at hooker, there could be some scrambling to fill holes. Flanagan (senior) recognised that his backline could do with some help so has recruited former Bulldog and Rabbitoh Corey Allan. The genuine level of depth for the backs can’t really be determined though until it’s settled who will play fullback. There’s also still a question mark over Cody Ramsey as he battles an illness. If Tyrell Sloan gets the nod, then there will be plenty of competition for centre given Jack Bird has made it clear he wants to play there. The pathway will be somewhat clear for Bird if Zac Lomax plays fullback. But Bird’s desired switch does leave the second row a little slim — and that’s what the Dragons should spend their final Top 30 spot on pending the Amone outcome.
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Halves: Luke Keary, Sam Walker, Sandon Smith (also hooker)
Hooker: Brandon Smith (also lock/prop), Tyler Moriarty
Fullback: James Tedesco
Wing: Daniel Tupou, Dom Young, Joseph Suaali’i (also centre/fullback), Junior Pauga (also centre)
Centre: Joseph Manu (also fullback/halves), Billy Smith, Robert Toia
Prop: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Lindsay Collins, Spencer Leniu, Naufahu Whyte (also lock), Terrell May
Second row: Angus Crichton, Sitili Tupouniua, Nat Butcher (also lock), Egan Butcher (also prop), Siua Wong
Lock: VictorRadley, Connor Watson (also hooker/halves), Zach Dockar-Clay (also hooker/halves)
Spots remaining in Top 30: 4
Supplementary players: Alex Young (wing), Blake Steep (second row), Ethan Roberts (second row/prop), Lewis Murphy (wing), Xavier Va’a (prop)
Reserves report: The Roosters had double the amount of players to lean on when they added their own team to NSW Cup last year to feed to the NRL squad along with the North Sydney Bears. But after ending the affiliation deal with the Bears, the Roosters’ depth will be seriously impacted in 2024. The club used its own Cup side to fast-track the development of youngsters and as a result struggled to compete this year, finishing last with 5 wins and 19 losses. The Bears, however, tend to load up on experienced Cup players and benefited from that by winning the minor premiership and making the grand final last season. The Roosters’ Cup side should see more success next season because the Top 30 players won’t be split between two sides, but it’s worth noting the pathway that delivered the Chooks Terrell May, Junior Pauga and Zach Dockar-Clay is gone.
Verdict: Ready to go. The Roosters have lost a valuable backup player in Drew Hutchison, who became their Mr. Fix It, but the versatile Connor Watson can fill that void when he returns from a serious knee injury. Sandon Smith was uncovered last season and has proven he can play halves and hooker at an NRL level. His versatility, along with Zach Dockar-Clay’s will be handy at dummy-half given Jake Turpin has left and Tyler Moriarty is not quite ready for the next step (yet). Between Dom Young’s arrival, Billy Smith coming off his best season to date and Joseph Suaali’i finding form again on the wing late last season, there’s some serious competition in the outside backs. As is the case up front with Spencer Leniu arriving and Terrell May fresh off a big season. You could make a case for why they need another specialist fullback like some other teams, but with a player like Joey Manu in the squad it’s not as pressing. On paper, the Roosters are in one of the better positions heading into 2024 — and still have four Top 30 spots to play with.
Halves: Shaun Johnson, Te Maire Martin (also fullback), Luke Metcalf (also fullback), Chanel Harris-Tavita, Ronald Volkman
Hooker: Wayde Egan, Freddy Lussick
Fullback: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (also centre), Taine Tuaupiki
Wing: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Marcelo Montoya (also centre), Edwards Kosi
Centre: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (also fullback/wing), Adam Pompey, Rocco Berry, Ali Leiataua
Prop: Addin Fonua-Blake, Bunty Afoa, Mitch Barnett (also second row/lock), Tom Ale, Zyon Maiu’u
Second row: Kurt Capewell, Marata Niukore (also centre/prop), Jackson Ford, Jacob Laban (second row)
Lock: Tohu Harris, Jazz Tevaga (also prop), Dylan Walker (also halves/hooker/centre), Demetric Sifakula
Remaining spots in Top 30: 1
Supplementary players: Ben Farr (halves), Etuate Fukofuka (hooker), Patrick Moimoi (centre), Sanele Aukusitino (wing), Selumiela Halasima (second row), Tanners Stowers-Smith (prop)
Reserves report: The Warriors returned to NSW Cup with a bang in 2023, finishing the season third and making it through to a preliminary final. The club has actively promoted from within with Jacob Laban and Ali Leiataua being upgraded to the Top 30, Ben Farr and Tanners Stowers-Smith rewarded with supplementary contracts and 25-year-old winger/fullback Setu Tu has been offered a train-and-trial — all off the back of their efforts in Cup. The latter three will benefit from training full-time with the NRL squad, particularly Stowers-Smith, who was selected in the New Zealand Kiwis ‘A squad’ a couple of months ago after his first Cup season. Second-rower/lock Kalani Going will be a key member of the side again in 2024 after inking a new deal. Interestingly, it’s just a NSW Cup deal and not a train-and-trial, supplementary or Top 30 contract. The 26-year-old was selected in the NSW Cup Team of the Year, made his NRL debut and captained the New Zealand ‘A squad’ in October.
Verdict: Ready to go. The Warriors’ fullback stocks have never looked better after bringing Roger Tuivasa-Sheck home. But after Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad’s 2023 season in the No.1 jersey, it looks like RTS will find a home in the centres next season. Nonetheless, he’s there to step in if needed, as is up-and-comer Taine Tuaupiki. Coach Andrew Webster has plenty of halves to choose from too. Shaun Johnson turned back the clock last season to come painfully close to winning the Dally M and he will once again start at halfback. Te Maire Martin last wore the No.6 jersey but Luke Metcalf will be back from injury come Round 1 and Chanel Harris-Tavita has returned to the club. Kurt Capewell’s signing has added some much-needed depth in the second row too. The club has one spot left to fill and perhaps should consider the future and recruit another prop to start planning for life without Addin Fonua-Blake.
Halves: Adam Doueihi (also centre/fullback), Aidan Sezer, Jayden Sullivan, Lachlan Galvin, Latu Fainu
Hooker: Apisai Koroisau (also halves), Jake Simpkin, Tallyn Da Silva
Fullback: Jahream Bula
Wing: David Nofoaluma, Charlie Staines (also fullback), Junior Tupou
Centre: Brent Naden, Starford To’a, Asu Kepaoa (also wing/second row), Josh Feledy
Prop: Stefano Utoikamanu, David Klemmer, Alex Twal (also lock), Alex Seyfarth (also second row), Jordan Miller
Second row: Isaiah Papali’i, John Bateman, Samuela Fainu, Shawn Blore, Brandon Tumeth
Lock: Fonua Pole, Justin Matamua, Sione Fainu
Remaining spots in Top 30: 1
Supplementary players: Alex Lobb (wing), Chris Fa’agutu (prop), Kit Laulilii (prop), Solomone Saukuru (centre/wing), Tony Sukkar (prop/second row)
Reserves report: The Tigers used its NSW Cup side, Western Suburb Magpies, to fast-track the development of their youngsters. Results weren’t great, with the Magpies finishing third last but the grade did prepare a few players for NRL debuts last season like Kit Laulili, Josh Feledy, Tallyn Da Silva and of course Jahream Bula, who was named the Tigers’ Player of the Year in his rookie season. Da Silva was rewarded with a Top 30 contract and is doing his first NRL pre-season after joining the full-time squad mid-2023 on a train-and-trial, while Feledy has been elevated to the Top 30 from a supplementary deal. The Tigers have recruited goalkicking winger Alex Lobb from the Dragons and he will play a key role in the Cup side next season.
Verdict: Needs work. The Tigers’ depth is looking a little shaky and unfortunately coach Benji Marshall only has one spot left in his Top 30. With Adam Doueihi expected to miss the first half of the season with a knee injury, the Tigers could be in danger if anything happens to Jayden Sullivan or Aiden Sezer. Latu Fainu is regarded as a star of the future but needs at least one more year in reserve grade, while 18-year-old Lachlan Galvin only just graduated high school and hasn’t played against grown men yet. Skipper Api Koroisau can play in the halves, but he does his best work at hooker and moving him simply weakens another position. The Tigers need more depth in the outside backs too — and that’s without taking into consideration the David Nofoaluma situation. Charlie Staines can fill in at fullback if need be, but then that leaves the backs stocks very low. It’s doable for one game, but for the Tigers to be competitive in 2024 the squad needs to be built to handle anything.
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