The great NRL 2024 top 8 swap… Who’s moving into the finals – and who’s out?
It is now officially 2024, so that means one thing – NRL prediction season.
When it comes to top 8 predictions, the safe option is to stick with last year’s teams, but history says otherwise. As the below table shows, there is an average of 2.67 teams swapping places between top and bottom 8 (Now bottom 9) each year.
Another interesting fact is for the last 8 seasons, at least one team has come from relative obscurity to the top 4.
YearInto finalsOut of finals20233: Broncos, Warriors, Knights3: Cowboys, Eels, Rabbitohs20223: Sharks, Cowboys, Raiders3: Manly, Knights, Titans20212: Manly, Titans2: Sharks, Raiders20202: Panthers, Knights 2: Manly, Broncos20193: Raiders, Eels, Manly3: Panthers, Dragons, Warriors20183: Rabbitohs, Dragons, Warriors3: Eels, Manly, CowboysAverage: 2.67 changes per season
Looking at the teams that switch places is also interesting reading with Warriors, Knights and Raiders (all 3) the most vulnerable to dropping out whilst Manly (5), Cowboys and Eels (both 3) perhaps indicating they can turn their fortunes around and return to the finals.
To go with averages, I predict there will be a three team switch for the 2024 Season.
The Drop Outs
The easiest team to predict to drop is the Raiders. The loss of Jack Wighton sees them field an inexperienced and underwhelming spine and coupled with both their frequency at bouncing in and out of the eight, as well as their struggles at winning big in 2023, I like many see them dropping towards the bottom 4.
Next, to go out on a limb, I see the Roosters losing their stranglehold on the top 8 with their slow starts finally catching up to them. Their attack has looked clunky in recent years and they have relied on long winning streaks to sneak into the finals. With star players ageing and too many potential spine players complicating their best 17, 2024 will be the year their luck runs out.
The final team dropping out in 2024 will be one of last season’s fairytales. This time I turn to recent history again as the last two years have seen teams that come from nowhere to make the top 4 in Cowboys and Manly struggle to maintain form and back up a good season.
For this reason, I see the Warriors in danger as opposition teams approach their clashes differently this season. 2023 relied on career years from both Shaun Johnson and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad which will be hard to maintain, whilst Addin Fonua-Blake may have one eye on the exit after his release on compassionate grounds.
The three dropouts sees the Panthers, Broncos, Storm, Knights and Sharks maintain their spots in the eight.
It would be easy to just pick the Rabbitohs, Eels and Cowboys here. They were all well fancied going into last season and just missed out on a spot in the finals. Of these teams, only the Cowboys will make the jump into the eight in 2024. Their roster is strong with good depth and they won’t be dealing with expectation and a world cup hangover this year. They have potential to threaten the top four like they did two seasons back.
Next, Manly will return to the finals after two years in the wilderness. Leaning on history again here, Manly are the club to yo-yo the most in and out of the eight, so it is about time they return.
A much more balanced squad who have strengthened their deficiencies in five eighth and hooker with the signing of Luke Brooks and the emergence of Gordon Chan Kum Tong. They do look a little skinny up front and will need a big year from Taniela Paseka and co. to put a dent in the competition.
Finally, the team that comes from nowhere to secure a spot in the top 4 will be the Dolphins. A team who punched well above their weight last year before tapering off as injuries hit. The Dolphins have recruited very well to strengthen their team and Wayne Bennett may just have something special brewing for his final season at the club.
Recent history tells us there are no silly answers when it comes to picking teams to shoot up into the top 8, the only silly answer is to suggest it will remain the same as last season.