Can the Penrith Panthers continue to be the competition's defensive powerhouse in 2024?

Penrith Panthers' NRL Season Preview

Since the first premiership of their incredible three-peat (2021), the Panthers have lost Api K, M Burton, V Kikau, S Crichton, K Capewell, and S Leniu. Ivan Cleary, however, has found a method to fill these gaps with M Kenny, I Tago, and S Turuva.

Despite all the talk about how brilliant Nathan Cleary is (and he is, in my opinion, a future immortal), the key to the Panthers' success remains simple:

  • They are the league's best-conditioned team, with superior line speed and defensive tenacity.
  • They gain more ground than their opponents, with their outside backs leading their sets with powerful running and smart movement.
  • They outperform their opponents in terms of set completion, emphasising error reduction and possession control.

As a result, with their spine still intact from 2023 and some fantastic young players emerging in the form of Jack Cole, Jesse McLean, and Liam Henry, as well as savvy acquisitions like B Schneider and D Laurie, the Panthers will continue to set the standard and be the club to beat.

I can't back them at such short odds, especially when the Broncos were taking them apart with 20 minutes left in the Grand Final. The Panthers won the game only because of Cleary's brilliance and the Broncos' fatigued 20-minute performance.

So, the Panthers of 2023 are beatable, and as I detail below, I believe there will be approximately 9 teams competing for the title this year.

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"Can go all the way, if..."

NRL Season Preview: Newcastle Knights

The Knights were a wonderful team in 2023, and I believe they will only improve in 2024. They enter 2024 with a pretty similar roster, with their few departures (Young and Fitzgibbons) more than offset by new additions and younger players coming up.

Following Ponga's Dally M-winning season, the Knights' assault was fantastic to watch in 2023, thanks to their superb offensive structures. Hastings and Gamble are an underrated halves combo with a strong pack. The arrival of Cogger provides Coach O'Brien with more options and depth. Their two English recruits will show to be quite astute, with Pearce-Paul and Pryce both capable of playing in the NRL.

But the main reason I'm excited about the Knights is that I hope to finally see Jaiden Brailey end a season strong. P Crossland did an excellent job filling in at 9, but he is not as inventive as Brailey. If Brailey can stay healthy, I believe the Knights can go all the way in 2024 and be in contention to bring home a Premiership for their devoted fans.

"Will bounce back big time"

NRL Season Preview: Sydney Roosters

Despite making the finals in 2023, the Roosters had a dismal season based on their standards and pre-season expectations.

Keary and Tedesco had patchy form, while Brandon Smith was slow to get going. Sam Walker was dropped from first grade for a big chunk of the season, while Manu and Suualii played below their best for most of the year.

In their defence, they suffered a staggering injury toll for the majority of the year, with Connor Watson, Angus Crichton, and S Tupounuia barely having an impact in 2023 owing to injuries. With these three players back on board, as well as the signing of Dom Young, I believe the Roosters are in for a huge year.

The concern for the Roosters is that Tedesco and Keary are past their prime, while JWH and Radley continue to miss games due to poor behaviour. It's stunning to watch how poorly disciplined the Roosters can be at times, and Coach Robinson appears to simply tolerate repeated sin-binning and suspensions.

However, considering their roster quality and depth, I believe the Roosters will rebound significantly in 2024.

"The Surprise Packet of 2024"

NRL Season Preview: Dolphins

Last year, the Dolphins were hampered by injuries and a thin roster. With injuries to Tom Gilbert, Marshall-King, and O'Sullivan, the Dolphins lost three of its most experienced players for extended periods of time. Over the last year, they have strengthened their roster with the additions of Jake Averillo and Josh Kerr, while Farnworth and Flegler provide much-needed star power.

Although I am concerned about the ageing front pack, this group has enough skill to seriously shake up the competition. I believe Milford still has a lot to give and will compete for the halves slots.

Meanwhile, Mason Teague, Kurt Donoghoe, Oryn Keeley, Thomas Cant, Jack Bostock, Trai Fuller, and Valynce Te Whare provide excellent depth and have the potential to have breakout seasons.

The Dolphins were the feel-good team of the first part of the 2023 season, and while they faded, I believe it was no fluke, and in 2024 they will challenge the Broncos for dominance of the Brisbane metropolis. I am tipping they will be the surprise packet of 2024 and they are the team I have bet the most money on in futures markets.

"Will slide a little..."

NRL Season Preview: Brisbane Broncos

The Broncos let the 2023 Premiership slip through their fingers, and while they were fantastic in 2023, I believe they will drop a little in 2024. First, I believe they have lost several crucial players in the form of K Capewell, T Flegler, and H Farnworth. The Broncos had such a good squad in 2023 because they were able to sign players like R Walsh and E Mam on outstanding deals, but with pressure to upgrade contracts for players like Haas, they have had to cut some key personnel. Farmworth's departure will be a significant loss. Based on his 2023 performance, he was considered the world's top centre.

Reynolds' age, I believe, will also play a role in 2024. While I was wrong about him in 2023 (I thought he'd struggle to regain his greatest form from earlier in his career), it's evident his body is beginning to wear down, and I believe opponents will attack him heavily in defence. His final 20 minutes in the GF were quite awful, and represented a player who may not have the energy to compete at the top level for a complete season.

Although the Broncos will remain one of the competition's powerhouses, I expect them to drop a few spots in 2024 and finish just outside the top four. However, there is a drawback. An injury to Walsh or Haas might be disastrous for the Broncos, and it wouldn't surprise me if they dropped out of the top eight if they had any injuries.