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Where does your NRL club’s spine rank heading into 2024?

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Roar Guru
27th January, 2024
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2997 Reads

We all know that having a good spine is critical for a team to consistently score enough points to win their fair share of games, and it’s no surprise that the premiership winners over that past 10 years have generally had the strongest spine in the competition.

So, what does that mean for your club in season 2024? Which teams have the spines capable to taking them all the way to a victory lap on 29 September this year? In making our assessment, let’s not forget the spine depth players who invariably play a huge part in every team’s performance across the season.

With most rosters now settled for 2024, although anything can still happen at either the Dragons or the Dogs, here are my ratings of every club’s expected spine, and their back-up, and I reckon that any club rating fewer than 19 points can forget about premiership glory this year.

Penrith Panthers – 23

Dylan Edwards (5), Jarome Luai (5), Nathan Cleary (5), Mitch Kenny (4), Depth (4)

If this spine remains injury-free, then a fourth premiership on the trot is more than possible, although maybe Luai will be a little distracted by the huge payday awaiting him when he joins the Tigers next year? Sunia Turuva, Soni Luke, Daine Laurie, Tyrone Peachey, Brad Schneider and Jack Cole make up a pretty solid supporting cast which should get them out of trouble when required.

Melbourne Storm – 21

Ryan Papenhuyzen (4), Cameron Munster (4), Jahrome Hughes (5), Harry Grant (5), Depth (3)

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The two big questions on the Storm spine are whether Ryan Papenhuyzen can make a full recovery from his injury and whether Cameron Munster can arrest his form slide. If so, they’ll be serious contenders once again.

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Harry Grant remains as the best 9 in the business, and they can always call on the likes of Nick Meaney, Jonah Pezet, Tyran Wishart, Bronson Garlick and Sua Fa’alogo if required.

Brisbane Broncos – 21

Reece Walsh (5), Ezra Mam (4), Adam Reynolds (5), Billy Walters (4), Depth (3)

Walsh, Mam and Walters all came ahead in leaps and bounds last year and still have more improvement in them. If Adam Reynolds stays afloat long enough to show them the way the Brisbane attack should be on fire once again this year, but things will look a lot different if he spends too much time off the park.

Tyson Smoothy, Jock Madden, Tristan Sailor, Cory Paix, and Blake Mozer give them solid, if inexperienced, back-up.

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New Zealand Warriors – 21

Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (5), Luke Metcalfe (3), Shaun Johnson (5), Wayde Egan (4), Depth (4)

Both Shaun Johnson and CNK really went up a gear last year and Wade Egan continues to improve, so they’ll be a threat once again. A fit Shaun Johnson is the key. They have the added bonus of having the experienced Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Te Maire Martin, Dylan Walker, Freddy Lussick and Chanel Harris-Tavita waiting in the wings.

Sydney Roosters – 20

James Tedesco (5), Luke Keary (4), Sam Walker (3), Brandon Smith (4), Depth (4)

Tedesco still hangs onto his 5 rating, while Brandon Smith drops to a 4. If Smith can find his 2022 form the Roosters will be a threat, although they’ll be hoping for more improvement and consistency from Sam Walker this year if they are going to play at the end of the season.

Joey Manu, Joseph Sua’ali’i, Connor Watson, Sandon Smith and Tyler Moriarty will no doubt spend some time in the 1, 6, 7 and 9 jerseys at some stage during the year.

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Joseph Manu (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

South Sydney Rabbitohs – 19

Latrell Mitchell (5), Cody Walker (5), Lachlan Ilias (3), Damien Cook (4), Depth (2)

Once again, Cody Walker holds the key for Souths, and his ability to set both Latrell Mitchell and new guy Jack Wighton alight will be critical if the Bunnies hope to play in the finals for a change. If halfback Ilias doesn’t develop, don’t be surprised to find Walker wearing the 7 jersey and Wighton at five-eighth.

The rest of the spine depth in Siliva Havili, Dean Hawkins and Peter Mamazoulis looks thin and won’t have opposition coaches losing too much sleep.

Manly Sea Eagles – 19

Tom Trbojevic (5), Luke Brooks (4), Daly Cherry-Evans (5), Lachlan Croker (3), Depth (2)

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It seems that no other club is so dependent upon one player for its success as Manly are on Tommy T. If he can stay on the field for most of this year, then anything’s possible, although perhaps Luke Brooks running game will take some pressure off him and give the defence something else to worry about. I expect Brooks to revel in the new environment at Manly.

Meanwhile, DCE just keeps on keeping on. Gordon Chan Kum Tong looks the best of their limited depth roster, supported by Jake Arthur, Karl Lawton, Josh Schuster, and youngster Jamie Humphreys.

Parramatta Eels – 19

Clint Gutherson (4), Dylan Brown (5), Mitchell Moses (5), Brendan Hands (3), Depth (2)

The Eels have a very good spine, but they really need more consistency from both Clint Gutherson and Dylan Brown if they ever expect to win another title. So much of what Parra do depends on Mitchell Moses these days, particularly his kicking game, and he’ll need to be on the field for most of the season if they are to challenge.

With only the likes of Joey Lussick and Daejarn Asi to call on if injuries arise, the Eels’ spine depth looks to be a real problem.

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Newcastle Knights – 19

Kalyn Ponga (5), Tyson Gamble (3), Jackson Hastings (4), Jayden Brailey (4), Depth (3)

Ponga aside, the Knights have a solid rather than spectacular spine. Ponga will once again have the primary responsibility for sparking Newcastle’s attack, and they’ll need him to have a big season if they are to make the finals once again this year.

English import Will Pryce is an interesting depth option who’ll no doubt challenge for a start before long, while Phoenix Crossland, Jack Cogger, Riley Jones and Ryan Rivett are the rest of a solid supporting cast.

North Queensland Cowboys – 18

Scott Drinkwater (4), Tom Dearden (4), Chad Townsend (3), Reece Robson (4), Depth (3)

Another very good spine that can get the job done against all but the best opposition. Both Dearden and Robson should go to the next level this year, but perhaps Chad Townsend has seen better days.

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Chad Townsend passes

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The same probably could be said for back up dummy-half Jake Granville, and with Tom Chester, Tom Duffy and Jake Clifford their only other spine options, their depth looks rather thin. Perhaps we’ll see more of Reuben Cotter at dummy-half before the season’s out?

Cronulla Sharks – 18

Will Kennedy (4), Braydon Trindall (3), Nicho Hynes (5), Blayke Brailey (4), Depth (2)

The Sharks have a very handy spine with Hynes the obvious standout, but a lot will depend on how Trindall develops this year. With only super-sub Cameron McInnes offering any real quality off the bench, together with youngsters Kade Dykes and Daniel Atkinson, they might just find their spine depth a little too shallow before too long.

Canterbury Bulldogs – 18

Stephen Crichton (4), Matt Burton (4), Toby Sexton (3), Reed Mahoney (3), Depth (4)

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The Bulldogs will be really hoping that their latest Penrith acquisition in Stephen Crichton has brought his magic touch with him, and there’s no reason that he can’t be rated as the best fullback in the game by season’s end. He’ll take a lot of pressure off Matt Burton, but both Sexton and Mahoney will need to step up if the Dogs are to drag themselves up the ladder.

They have plenty of depth in the likes Drew Hutchison, Karl Oloapu, Blake Taaffe, Bailey Biondi-Odo, Hayze Perham, Jake Turpin and Connor Tracey.

Dolphins – 17

Hamiso Tabui-Fidow (4), Isayia Katoa (3), Sean O’Sullivan (4), Jeremy Marshall-King (4), Depth (2)

The Dolphins’ spine improved in leaps and bounds last year and will be more than competitive in 2024. The Hammer is now one of the most dangerous ball-runners in the game and Jeremy Marshall-King is really reaching his potential.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Spine depth looks somewhat skinny though, with Kodi Nikorima the standout, alongside the experienced Anthony Milford and the promising but untested pair of Max Plath and Harrison Graham.

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Gold Coast Titans – 16

Jayden Campbell (4), Kieran Foran (4), Tanah Boyd (3), Sam Verrills (3), Depth (2)

Foran and Verrills certainly know what’s required of them and can deliver the goods week in week out, Campbell is an absolute excitement machine in attack, while Boyd looks to be the weakest link in this line-up. Don’t be surprised to see Foran at 7 and Brimson at 6 before too long, as Brimson must be in the spine somewhere.

The rest of their spine depth options in Chris Randall, Keano Kini, Erin Clark and Thomas Weaver are nothing to get excited about.

Wests Tigers – 16

Jahream Bula (4), Jayden Sullivan (2), Aiden Sezar (3), Apisai Koroisau (5), Depth (2)

Koroisau and Bula will need to provide most of the attacking spark for the Tigers this year as neither Sezar nor Sullivan look to be a real threat, and it will take time for their combination to develop. Adam Doueihi will come in very handy if he can make a successful return from injury, and further depth will be provided by the likes of Jake Simpkin and the so far untested young guns Latu Fainu, Tallyn Da Silva and Lachlan Galvin.

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Canberra Raiders – 14

Xavier Savage (3), Ethan Strange (2), Jamal Fogarty (4), Zac Woolford (3), Depth (2)

With Jack Wighton gone there’s not a lot to get excited about here for Raiders’ supporters, with Jamal Fogarty the only certain selection. Savage will need to deliver on his early promise if the side is to fire, and it will be a very big step up for Strange.

The depth, however, doesn’t look good. Seb Kris can always go back to fullback if required, Chevy Stewart is a player of the future, Kaeo Weekes is yet to do anything since making his first-grade debut in 2022, and the reliable Danni Levi and Tom Starling are solid dummy-half options.

Tom Starling of the Raiders in action

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

St George Illawarra Dragons – 14

Tyrell Sloan (2), Kyle Flanagan (3), Ben Hunt (5), Jacob Liddle (3), Depth (1)

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Ben Hunt’s going to have to play out of his skin every week if the Dragons are going to find enough points to be competitive. Kyle Flangan looks better suited to dummy-half than five-eighth these days, Tyrell Sloan will spark the attack but not often enough to outweigh his glaring deficiencies in defence, while Liddle will just do his job.

Spine depth options are limited to Jack Bird, the inexperienced trio of Connor Muhleisen, Paul Turner and Jesse Marschke, and a probable Zac Lomax experiment.

Now if I’ve got these ratings anywhere near right, and if the relative strength of a team’s spine is a reliable indicator of how they’ll perform during season, then the top four this year should be Panthers, Storm, Broncos and Warriors.

• Challenges for the remaining finals berths will come from – Roosters, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles, Eels, Knights, Cowboys and Sharks;
• The Bulldogs, Dolphins, Titans and Tigers will just be making up the numbers;
• While the Dragons and Raiders will in a race to the bottom and the wooden spoon.

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