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NRL Ladder Predictions: The also-rans - fading powerhouse clubs who won't be in the playoff equation in 2024

Roar Guru
7th February, 2024
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Roar Guru
7th February, 2024
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After tipping the Wests Tigers to collect a hat-trick of wooden spoons, just edging out the Gold Coast for that “honour”, it’s time to look at the teams who will finish slightly above them in the also-rans.

These four should fill spots 12-15 on the ladder, doing enough to avoid the dreaded spoon but falling well short of the finals.

15. North Queensland Cowboys

The Cowboys are looking to make their way back into the top eight after a disappointing 2023 season when they finished 11th, a huge drop from the previous year when they were one disallowed forward pass away from reaching the grand final for the third time in eight years.

Expectations for last season were high but they failed to deliver. A prime reason was that a lot of North Queensland’s players reached their peak and were playing their best footy in that campaign.

The Cowboys have signed Thomas Mikaele, Viliami Vailea and Jake Clifford, who will also return from Hull FC.

Clifford will likely be a back-up for both halves. This is a handy replacement, as he has a good amount of experience, as he played three and a half years at the Cowboys, along with a small stint at Newcastle, and a year in England. North Queensland are in a similar situation to the Gold Coast. They’ve got loads of talent, but the big question is can they gel and move back into the form they were in during 2022.

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For now, their hasn’t been a mass change, and its hard to go from being a bottom-ten team one year and improving the next without key changes.

14. St George Illawarra Dragons

The Dragons are the team that everyone was waiting to see near the bottom of this list. St George Illawarra won just one out of their last ten games last season, a campaign which ended with five wins.

They have been very active on the market. They’ve gained and lost a long list of players. Their most important signing was Kyle Flanagan, who will take over the departing Jayden Sullivan in the halves.

There aren’t many positives or negatives from this swap, as Flanagan has a small chunk of experience under his belt and Sullivan looked to have potential at times, but other times he played poorly.

Tyrell Sloan will certainly receive the starting fullback role over Corey Allan, who unfortunately tore his ACL during pre-season training. Sloan is an inconsistent player who has received a fair amount of criticism throughout 2023. Having the fullback role to himself will give him a second chance to prove that he is the long-term option.

The hiring of Shane Flanagan was the perfect option. Flanagan was arguably the most important part of the Sharks’ 2016 premiership run. There is a bright future ahead for St George Illawarra, as they have plenty of up-and coming talent. The major question is, ‘Can they hold onto the talent’? They can, with Flanagan at the helm.

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This season will feature improvements; however, 2025 is a more realistic season for them to reach the finals.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 18: Eels look on after defeat during the round 25 NRL match between Parramatta Eels and Sydney Roosters at CommBank Stadium on August 18, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

13. Paramatta Eels

This was the toughest selection yet. So many teams in the league have improved their rosters for this season, but Paramatta have not. The Eels have gone backwards after missing out on the top eight last year following a Grand Final appearance. Their shot at glory two seasons ago was certainly the final opening in a while for the Eels.

Parra lost five of their last eight matches in 2023 and finished two points behind eighth on the ladder. Their losses this year aren’t major, although they gained just two players in Manly’s Morgan Harper and Kelma Tuilagi.

Teams that finished around the same spot on the table are improving, and Paramatta will be left behind.

The Eels have one of the best halves duos in the competition, but it won’t be good enough – they will fail to make the top eight, and 13th is a realistic finish.

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12. Canberra Raiders

The Raiders were able to sneak into the post-season after finished eighth on the ladder last season. They were beaten in a classic finals match against Newcastle. Their rollercoaster season was what most of their campaigns have felt like in the past years.

How the Raiders will cope with the loss of Jack Wighton is the largest question. Kaeo Weekes will replace him and he has been talked up as a young phenomenon, and the Raiders clearly like him as they’ve signed him on a multi-year deal.

The Raiders have the fourth-easiest draw in the league this season. But they tend to perform at their best one week and then play their worst footy the next.

This happens too often and must be resolved if they want to have a chance at making a real impact. Without Jack Wighton they will fall out of the top eight.

Their roster isn’t poor enough to be at the tail end of the ladder but Canberra are in a rebuilding stage.

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