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NRL Premiership Pressure Gauge: Which teams are most under the pump to get their hands on trophy in 2024

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Expert
19th February, 2024
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With the NRL regular season kicking off at the end of next week with its fragmented starting round, 17 clubs are putting the finishing touches on their summer training and trialling, dreaming of lifting the premiership trophy. 

Realistically, only around half of the competition has anything greater than a snowball’s chance of being the premiers for 2024.

While the remaining clubs will need a lengthy list of very fortunate events to be the last team standing. 

It can happen – the Panthers of two decades ago were 100-1 long shots at the start of that season and the Wests Tigers a couple of years later were also viewed as wooden spoon contenders before they shocked the NRL world by winning it all. 

Penrith these days are an insatiable trophy-gobbling juggernaut and Ivan Cleary’s troops will start the new year as the bookies’ favourites to become the first team in nearly six decades to win four straight titles. 

Premiership windows don’t last forever. And for some teams, time is running out to convert their current upward trajectory or their ageing roster into a trophy before the cyclical nature of professional sport kicks in and they have to start building towards another title run.

From top to bottom, here is the Premiership Pressure Index for all 17 NRL clubs on which club is under the pump the most when it comes to getting the job done in 2024. 

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1 Rabbitohs: Time is running out for the ageing key components of this team to go all the way. Cody Walker and Damien Cook are showing signs of age and while Jack Wighton’s arrival is a major boost, he is no spring chicken either at 31. 

The Bunnies are trying to hit a sweet spot where Walker and Cook are still performing at an elite level while halfback Lachlan Ilias matures into the dominant chief playmaker role.

Ilias needs to take a massive leap this year in his development with Cook and Walker in the tail end of their careers although the Latrell Mitchell factor is the biggest determinant on whether they’ll be contenders like 2021 or pretenders like last year. 

If he stays on the park, Souths have the strikepower to challenge Penrith, Brisbane and anyone else. But if he is again injured or suspended at crucial stages of the season, they’ll struggle to compete at the business end of the year. 

Oh and there’s also the not insignificant matter of coach Jason Demetriou needing to deliver after his assistant coaches Sam Burgess and John Morris questioned his authority late last season. They are no longer there so Demetriou needs to prove he has the command of the dressing room and ability to convert a stacked roster into silverware.

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

2 Roosters: like the Bunnies, they’ve got a few old-timers who are on the way to the retirement lounge plus they have got a couple of above-average Joes heading to rugby in messrs Manu and Suaalii. 

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They are also banking on a young playmaker elevating his game alongside a veteran five-eighth with Sam Walker riding sidesaddle with Luke Keary. 

With two trophies in the past six years it’s hardly panic stations at Bondi Junction but when you have a team that, on paper, is a legitimate title threat, you can’t let those seasons go to waste. 

3 Broncos: oh so close last year, teams usually go one of two ways when they finish runner-up, rarely remaining static. Brisbane will probably only have another year or two with Adam Reynolds on deck to organise their talented team before a new on-field maestro is needed to orchestrate the Mam-Walsh-Cobbo-Staggs quartet. 

4 Eels: with a drought as long as the Parramatta River, the pressure won’t ease until the dam wall bursts. Mixed aquatic metaphors aside, coach Brad Arthur enters the season under the pump after a decade-plus in charge and only the 2022 Grand Final appearance to show for it. Parra fans will hate this comparison but they’re starting to resemble a poor man’s Panthers – a couple of good props, clever halves, a tireless fullback but they’re not the best of the best in their positions. 

Storm coach Craig Bellamy and assistant Jason Ryles. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

5 Storm: the Craig Bellamy swansong is filling the Melbourne air again. One of these seasons it will turn out to be the final time we hear it. The Storm have defied the near universal trend of professional sport by avoiding cyclical peaks and troughs but that can only last so long especially with a coaching change afoot. 

6 Raiders: it has now been 30 years since their last title. No one outside of Green Machine HQ gives them a chance this year but after going so close in 2019 the last few remaining members of that team are dwindling and a slow climb to the top of the ladder over the course of several seasons awaits. 

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7 Panthers: you’ve got to make the most of a dynasty in the moment so although they’re dining out on three straight premierships, Ivan Cleary needs to manufacture hunger in his troops however possible. 

Feasts can morph into famines – Parra have been waiting 37 years since winning four out of six while the Dragons in both their guises have claimed just three trophies since their unprecedented 11-year undisputed reign ended in 1966. 

8 Sea Eagles: if you dump a club icon in Des Hasler, you need to get results. Anthony Seibold is in year two of his tenure and with Tom Trbojevic in what should be the prime of his career and Daly Cherry-Evans still an elite halfback, this year could be their best chance for the foreseeable future. 

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - APRIL 15: Jason Taumalolo of the Cowboys charges forward during the round seven NRL match between New Zealand Warriors and North Queensland Cowboys at Mt Smart Stadium on April 15, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Andy Jackson/Getty Images)

Jason Taumalolo. (Photo by Andy Jackson/Getty Images)

9 Cowboys: No real pressure but improvement is expected in the tropics after a big step back last year. The dial in the intensity meter would be revved up to 11 if they hadn’t broken through on GF night in 2015 in the one of the most dramatic of deciders in history. 

10 Sharks: they are also still basking in the afterglow of their breakthrough premiership and like the Cowboys have been there and thereabouts in recent years. But they need to show they can take the next step with their current bunch. 

11 Bulldogs: Surely the revolving door has now closed at Canterbury on high-priced recruits lured to the club to turn the fortunes around. At some point the existing coaches and players need to take ownership rather than waiting for yet another messiah to clean up the Dogs’ mess.

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They haven’t made the playoffs since 2016, the second-worst finals drought in Cantebury’s proud history and Phil Gould has a history of moving on when he thinks he can make no further headway at a club. 

12 Warriors: the goodwill generated in 2023 will quickly fade if the club reverts to type and becomes a hot and cold outfit which varies from world beaters one week to the dregs the following round. 

This is their 30th season and there’s still no trophy in the cabinet so there comes a point when the club needs to no longer be satisfied with doing well enough to give the Aussie sides a run for their money and start taking their trophy off them.  

13 Knights: The 2001 premiership odyssey is a long time ago and although Kalyn Ponga and Adam O’Brien restored their reputations last season, the Newcastle fans want to see more with the pain of three straight wooden spoons still embedded in their recent memory. 

14 Titans: Des Hasler looks like Ted Danson in The Good Place. His first coaching foray at Manly was Cheers (success and critical acclaim), his Bulldogs stint was Becker (better than most people remember) but his trip to the Titans could be the most forgettable role of his career. 

15 Tigers: It’s Groundhog Day/Season for fans of this club who are now hoping a sixth coaching regime since the last finals appearance can get them back somewhere near contention. 

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Pressure has eased on Benji Marshall given the latest round of boardroom bloodshed has lowered expectations even further but he’s got a decent roster at his disposal compared to the past couple of years so being in wooden spoon territory again should not be accepted. 

All going well they could rise five or six rungs on the ladder to be close to a 50-50 record – a mediocre feat they’ve achieved once (2018) since their last playoff tilt 13 long winters ago. 

16 Dragons: Short-term expectations are so low they’re subterranean but there’s always a weight of history at the club to deliver success. Shane Flanagan has a free swing this year to remove deadwood and sprout a few green shoots before real growth is likely.

17 Dolphins: There is zero expectation of them going all the way. Building on last year’s better-than-expected promising start and paving the way for a smooth coaching transition from Wayne Bennett to Kristian Woolf is pretty much all that matters at their team base at The (also known as Redcliffe).

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