Leaping to finals conclusions: Predicting which team among the nine also-rans can make giant step forward in 2024

With kick-off to the NRL season just a few days away, nine sides are hoping to continue a trend where at least one side leaps from also-ran status into the finals on the back of a five-win improvement or more.

Over the past nine seasons, the top eight has never been static year to year and there has been at least one club which has lifted their win-loss record by 10 competition points to make a return to the finals.

The last year when that didn’t happen was in 2014 when Brisbane were the only team to force their way into the playoffs from the outer with just a three-point better record on the previous season.

Last year it was the Warriors who came from the clouds to make the biggest leap of any team over the past decade. 

Despite being written off as wooden spoon contenders in the pre-season under rookie coach Andrew Webster, they went from a paltry six wins in 2022 to surge from 15th to fourth, bettering the 11-win leap the Roosters took in 2017.

The Cowboys and Sharks made noticeable sudden climbs the previous season while Manly are the only club that have achieved the feat of a five-win bump three times in the past decade with their fortunes fluctuating on the injury history of Dally M Medal winner Tom Trbojevic.

Finals leapers

Teams in past decade who’ve improved five wins or more

YearTeamRecordPrevious YearLeap in winsLadder leap2023Warriors16-86-18+1215th to 4thBroncos18-613-11+59th to 2ndKnights14-9-16-18+7.514th to 5th2022Cowboys17-77-17+1015th to 3rdSharks10-1418-6+89th to 2nd2021Sea Eagles16-87-13+913th to 4th2020*Panthers18-1-111-13+7.510th to minor premiers2019Sea Eagles14-107-17+715th to 6thEels14-106-18+816th to 5thRaiders15-910-14+510th to 4th2018Warriors15-97-17+813th to 8thRabbitohs16-89-15+712th to 3rd2017Sea Eagles14-108-16+614th to 6thRoosters17-76-18+1115th to 2nd2016Panthers14-109-15+511th to 6thRaiders17-6-110-14+7.510th to 2nd2015Sharks14-105-19+916th to 6th2014Broncos12-1210-13-1+1.512th to 8th* only 20 rounds played due to COVID-19 pandemic

Of the nine teams with grand plans for great leaps this year, all are theoretically capable but for most of them, incremental improvements up the ladder will probably be better than the alternative of sinking further into the mire.

Team by team, here’s how likely they are to skyrocket up the ladder in 2024.

Souths (ninth, 12-12 record in 2023): Definitely a chance of going 17-7 if they keep all their stars on the field but that is a big if. Latrell Mitchell’s injury and judiciary record has been spotty in recent seasons, Campbell Graham is already out most of the season with a sternum injury and key spine members Cody Walker and Damien Cook have been durable but are entering their mid 30s. 

Should rise but a double-digit leap looks unlikely

Eels (10th, 12-12 record in 2023): Their chances hinge on how much a team values stability. They are rolling with pretty much the same side which never got out of second gear last season. A combination of Dylan Brown playing a full season and the likes of J’maine Hopgood and Will Penisini becoming fully fledged stars appears to be Parra’s only hope of a 10-point rise.

Don’t count on it – their depth is skinny, particularly in the spine

Cowboys (11th, 12-12 record in 2023): Possibly the hardest team to predict in the entire NRL. Can Jason Taumalolo again become the metre-eater he once was, will Chad Townsend defy Father Time for another year and is Todd Payten’s abrasive coaching style wearing thin with the players? Too many questions hover over the Cowboys.

Could click like 2022 and rise into top four but halves creativity an issue 

Parker loving his new role at Manly ????

???? Watch #NRLManlyBroncos on ch.502 or stream on Kayo: https://t.co/B1ijnGXtqA
???? MATCH CENTRE https://t.co/YJdcAkagzo pic.twitter.com/fHG9kd5UUt

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) February 24, 2024

Sea Eagles (12th, 11-12-1 record in 2023): They loom as the most likely of the also-rans to add five more wins to their tally. And the main reason for that is that Tom Trbojevic is back – when he lasts the season, Manly’s campaign usually last into the post-season. Daly Cherry-Evans is not the running half he once was but is arguably a superior player in many ways due to his elite organising skills. 

Manly have the support cast to rise rapidly but only if their marquee man stays fit

Dolphins (13th, 9-15 record in 2023): They won roughly six or seven more matches than most pundits expected in their foundation year but it’s hard to see them exceeding expectations too much this time around. The additions of Herbie Farnworth, Tom Flegler and Jake Averillo are massive boosts but lock Tom Gilbert’s season-ending ACL tear undermines their already flimsy overall depth.

Wayne Bennett will be knighted if he can get this team to a 14-win finals campaign

Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett with fullback Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Titans (14th, 9-15 record in 2023): If you believe in the Des Hasler bump then the Gold Coast could be a surprise finals side. Manly added two wins in his first coaching foray two decades ago, the Bulldogs of 2012 went up eight victories when the Mad Professor arrived and the Sea Eagles won seven more matches than the previous season when he returned in 2019. Gold Coast have a strong pack but seem to be lacking attacking spark.

They will potentially be renamed Silver Coast this year because they will run second in many matches

Bulldogs (15th, 7-17 record in 2023): Eventually the tide will turn for this proud club which hasn’t made the finals since 2016 … or Canterbury will become the new Wests Tigers – splashing a lot of cash and getting nowhere year after year. Stephen Crichton’s arrival from Penrith should do a world of good but they need to get him clean, early ball otherwise he will go to waste out wide. He only needs to look left to ask Josh Addo-Carr what that’s like.

Should improve but only if they find the right halves partner for Matt Burton 

It had to be Ben Hunt! ????

???? Watch #NRLDragonsTigers on ch.502 or stream on Kayo: https://t.co/B1ijnGXtqA
BLOG https://t.co/UKxz9aK2iM
???? MATCH CENTRE https://t.co/yx1lBWfvRm pic.twitter.com/bUvzvs94c9

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) February 24, 2024

Dragons (16th, 5-19 record in 2023): They can’t be worse than last year and with new coach Shane Flanagan putting a broom through the joint (venture), the existing players are on notice that they need to perform. It smells like team spirit has pervaded St George Illawarra in the pre-season and while they’re a long way from the nirvana of another premiership, they won’t be as bad as many experts have predicted.

Will cause a few upsets but not enough to go near the finals

Tigers (17th, 4-20 record in 2023): The team, and the entire club for that matter, looks more stable after the on-field malaise and off-field maladies which hovered over everything they did last year. Benji Marshall has marked his territory as a new coach by punting a former teammate in David Nofoaluma to let everyone know the club has hollered for a new sheriff who won’t put up with mediocrity.

In a holding pattern while waiting for Jarome Luai next year so don’t count on any great leap from Wests

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.