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Our NRL Fantasy nut selects his 16 ‘must haves’ for season 2024

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nrl fantasy, 2024

NRL Fantasy is back for another year. As both avid and first-time players prepare their teams for 2024, our fantasy expert has his say on the 16 players every side must have.

NRL Fantasy’s return for another year means more than 100,000 eager fans are flooding the game’s site to attempt to construct the early foundations of their (hopefully successful) 2024 side.

Armed only with rumours, last year’s form and team lists, and without pre-season friendlies to base their decisions on, many of these first drafts won’t see the light of day when the season kicks off in Las Vegas on 3 March.

At the risk of jumping the gun, our resident fantasy nut has run his eye over the NRL Fantasy field and selected 16 players that should be in every single team in 2024, whether as early-season cash cows or season-long mainstays.

Check us out on socials, @onlysportsanz: Instagram | Twitter | Tik Tok

16 NRL Fantasy Players You Must Have in 2024

Nathan Cleary

Position: HLF

Price: $1m

Club: Penrith Panthers

Can anything new be said about Nathan Cleary? The Penrith skipper isn’t just the greatest halfback, and player, in the NRL at present but also one of the game’s greatest ever. In 2023 he averaged a tick below 73 Fantasy points, behind only Nicho Hynes, as he shepherded his side to an unprecedented three-peat.

Cleary can do it all and will continue improving as he enters the early stages of his peak. His price is exorbitant, that much we’ll admit, but his output undoubtedly justifies such a hefty fee.

Cleary, NRL, NRL Fantasy
Where does Nathan Cleary rank among the NRL’s greatest halfbacks ever?

Payne Haas

Position: MID

Price: 880k

Club: Brisbane Broncos

Another who needs no introduction. If Payne Haas isn’t already the greatest front-rower rugby league’s ever seen, he’ll undoubtedly end his career on that perch. A monumental 2023 season for Brisbane saw Haas average 165 metres, four tackle breaks, two offloads, 24 tackles, and 65 Fantasy points.

For a middle, his price is quite high; he’s the third most expensive player in NRL Fantasy for 2024. Truthfully, aside from injury or Origin, there should be no reason why Haas isn’t a weekly fixture in your side, such is his undeniable brilliance. Get in at season’s start before his price rises and he becomes even more unattainable.

J’Maine Hopgood

Position: MID I EDG

Price: 837k

Club: Parramatta Eels

J’Maine Hopgood begins 2024 very differently from how he began 2023. From relatively unknown rookie to a top five lock in the game, whoever scouted and signed him for the Eels deserves a significant raise and lifetime contract at the club.

What makes Hopgood special is the way he perfectly balances the absolute nitty-gritty work all locks must do, making nearly 40 tackles per game, with the elegant ball-playing and light feet all modern middles require.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Hopgood ended the 2024 season as a $1 million player in NRL Fantasy.

Stephen Crichton

Position: CTR

Price: 620k

Club: Canterbury Bulldogs

Trading Penrith for Belmore hasn’t historically reaped instant rewards, just ask Matt Burton and Viliame Kikau. However, the Premiership-winning pair joined a vastly different and more dilapidated Bulldogs outfit to the one Stephen Crichton walks into.

Crichton is a prospect too enticing to pass on. Listed as a centre, yet likely playing fullback, accruing fullback points, he is a worthwhile gamble for Fantasy in 2024. Having never consistently featured at fullback in first grade, there’s little data to estimate performance on. However, Crichton’s last outing at fullback saw him cross for a try, run for 293 metres, and break four tackles.

While a small sample size, it hints at Crichton’s capabilities. Should he, alongside Burton, Kikau, Reed Mahoney, and the rest of a full-strength Canterbury side play to their potential then there’s no reason Crichton’s output can’t match it with the NRL’s best.

Api Koroisau

Position: HOK

Price: 608k

Club: Wests Tigers

I don’t think we’ve seen a goalkicking hooker since Cameron Smith hung the boots up. Benji Marshall and the Wests Tigers are breaking the drought by reportedly appointing club captain, Api Koroisau, as goalkicker.

Given Aidan Sezer’s presence at the club, the decision feels strange. From a Fantasy perspective, it potentially gives Api, who averaged 44 points last season, the chance to gain a few extra points per game and edge closer to a 50-point average.

Trent Loiero

Position: EDG

Price: 601k

Club: Melbourne Storm

It’s the worst-kept secret of the 2023-24 NRL pre-season; Trent Loiero is shifting from the back row to the middle at Melbourne, with Josh King moving to the front row. On the edge, Loiero was less a destructive ball runner, like Viliame Kikau, and more reliable workhorse with an exceptional motor and solid defensive game.

While his minutes in the middle will be reduced – not great for Fantasy – he’ll be required to do more defensive work – which is great for Fantasy. With his tackle efficiency yet to drop below 91% in his three-year first-grade career, Loiero at lock has all the makings of an NRL Fantasy favourite.

Check us out on socials, @onlysportsanz: Instagram | Twitter | Tik Tok

Dylan Lucas

Position: EDG

Price: 558k

Club: Newcastle Knights

Lachlan Fitzgibbon’s departure opens a back-row role at Newcastle. Recruits Kai Pearce-Paul and Jed Cartwright are hunting the spot alongside Knights junior, Dylan Lucas. In six games in back row last season, Lucas showed a determination and steely grit that endeared him to fans in the Steel City.

A resolute and capable defender, Lucas made 40-plus tackles in four of his six outings at back row, and averaged just shy of 50 points per game in Fantasy, though this average is skewed by his 30-minute debut cameo off the bench in round three.

Should Lucas make that back row position his own, which Knights fans would surely celebrate, there is no reason why he can’t be an underrated Fantasy ‘cheapie’ back row option with untold price growth potential.

Shawn Blore

Position: EDG

Price: 518k

Club: Melbourne Storm

Trent Loiero’s shift to lock will likely facilitate the rise of Shawn Blore from Wests Tigers outcast to starting back-row for Craig Bellamy’s Melbourne Storm. A highly skilled footballer, Blore has all the capabilities to be a highly competent first grader. The fact the storm pursued him so aggressively as part of the deal that sent Justin Olam to Campbelltown is a testament to his talents.

In his three games playing 80 minutes at back row for the Tigers in 2023, Blore averaged 49. I repeat that was for the Tigers. In a Melbourne side that is far superior, and on a left-edge where Cameron Munster and Ryan Papenhuyzen will be feeding him the ball, the sky is the limit for Blore in 2024 and beyond.

At his price, and with his potential, there simply aren’t many better back row options.

Josh Curran

Position: MID I EDG

Price: 501k

Club: Canterbury Bulldogs

Resigned to featuring from the bench last year at the Warriors, Josh Curran’s arrival at Belmore should excite Dogs fans and Fantasy players alike. His measly 32-point average in a disappointing 2023 shouldn’t be dissuasive for prospective owners.

In 2022 and 2021, when he started between back row and lock for the Warriors, Curran averaged 47 and 52 Fantasy points respectively. With expectations he’ll wear the 13 when the season begins, Curran’s reliable defence won’t just tighten Canterbury’s flimsy middle up but also position him as one of the strongest dual-position forwards in NRL Fantasy 2024.

Heilum Luki

Position: EDG

Price: 498k

Club: North Queensland Cowboys

Luciano Leilua’s decision to return to the Dragons has opened a spot on the Cowboys left-edge. Young star Heilum Luki will likely fill this role. A dynamic back rower, 2024 is shaping as a breakout year for the 22-year-old.

Just 15 of Luki’s 38 NRL games have come at back row and he’s only played more than 70 minutes three times. While this doesn’t bode well for Luki’s Fantasy stocks, Leilua’s 73 minutes per game last season indicate Todd Payten’s preference for 80-minute guys shoring up his edges.

In games Luki’s played over 70 minutes at second row, he averages 58.7 points. In games he’s played over 60 minutes at the position that dips slightly to a still respectable 55.6 points.

Ryan Papenhuzen

Position: WFB

Price: 495k

Club: Melbourne Storm

Injury naturally clouds Ryan Papenhuyzen as we enter the 2024 NRL season. Melbourne’s star man hasn’t caught a break in the last two seasons, picking up severe injury after severe injury, leading many to question whether he’ll ever recover to become the player he was.

Craig Bellamy and the Melbourne Storm rarely let star players slip into oblivion. Expect something similar to happen with Papenhuyzen who, at his best, is up there amongst the NRL’s best fullbacks and, at his price, could be the Fantasy steal of the season.

Jayden Campbell

Position: WFB

Price: 459k

Club: Gold Coast Titans

In 2022, Jayden Campbell’s last season playing consistent minutes at fullback, he averaged 48 points in 11 games. With new Titans coach Des Hasler confirming the young star is his number one, at the expense of AJ Brimson, and with value-for-money fullback options few and far between, Campbell appears too good to resist.

Slender with gliding pace and a slippery propensity to wriggle through defences and into open field, Campbell has all the hallmarks of an exciting fullback. With soft hands and a natural ball-playing instinct, his attacking skillset extends beyond his speed and agility, making him an extremely enticing prospect in a likely improved Titans outfit.

An injury will see Campbell miss the opening rounds of the NRL season, but once he’s fully returned to fitness expect Campbell to shoot for the stars under Hasler’s guidance.

Ezra Mam

Position: HLF

Price: 450k

Club: Brisbane Broncos

I’m questioning whether Mam’s price is a system error that’ll be rectified soon and subsequently massively increased or not. 450k seems a bit cheap for a five-eighth who scored a hat-trick in the grand final and had one of the greatest try-scoring seasons for a half in rugby league history, doesn’t it?

At his price, there aren’t many better options going for halves in NRL Fantasy. Not only will Mam give you points as his game continues to progress with more valuable first-grade experience, but his cheap price allows you to strengthen elsewhere at your team elsewhere without sacrificing too much.

Ezra Mam has the potential to be both an early-season cash cow or a season-long mainstay if you can look past Brisbane’s first few fixtures of 2024; Roosters, Rabbitohs, Penrith, North Queensland, Melbourne, which threaten to limit his attacking output.

Josh Schuster

Position: EDG I HLF

Price: 408k

Club: Manly Sea Eagles

Is Josh Schuster an NRL five-eighth? The jury is still out. What the young Manly star is though is a very, very good back-rower, akin to a Feleti Mateo or John Sutton; big, physical bodies with a deft touch and silky hands that frighten all opposition edge defences.

In 2021, his breakout year as an edge forward, Schuster averaged 47 Fantasy points per game, making 93% of his tackles, and running for 80 metres. How he’s utilised alongside Luke Brooks remains to be seen, but with Tom Trbojevic fit and healthy and speedster Reuben Garrick potentially hitting holes outside him, there’s no reason why Schuster can’t succeed in Manly’s new iteration.

Injury means he will miss the opening of the 2024 NRL season. However, once form and fitness are on his side expect few edge forwards to be able to execute what Schuster can. At his price and with the benefit of being dual positioned, there’s no reason why Schuster can’t be an NRL Fantasy gamble in 2024.

Brendan Piakura

Position: EDG

Price: 399k

Club: Brisbane Broncos

Kurt Capewell’s shock switch to the Warriors has opened up a sizeable hole on Brisbane’s left edge. A position likely to be filled by Brendan Piakura who, for years, has been viewed as the next big thing in the Queensland capital.

While a defensive edge of Piakura, Mam, and Selwyn Cobbo might not inspire confidence in many, Piakura is guaranteed minutes in a side that proved in 2023 how frightening their attack can be.

Last season, Kurt Capewell averaged 42 Fantasy points and scored six tries. It’s hard to imagine Piakura not nearing these levels in 2024, even if an adjustment period is needed at the start of the season.

Ethan Strange

Position: CTR

Price: 250k

Club: Canberra Raiders

Initially perceived to be behind Kaeo Weekes in the race to replace Jack Wighton, a strong showing in the Pre-Season Challenge has reportedly rocketed Ethan Strange into the frame to start alongside Jamal Fogarty in season 2024.

Fogarty’s ability to organise Canberra around the park and kick well will be of huge benefit to Strange, allowing the young gun to focus on steadily improving week-to-week and running the football, arguably his greatest strength.

Check us out on socials, @onlysportsanz: Instagram | Twitter | Tik Tok

Kyle Robbins
Kyle Robbins
Kyle is a senior sports writer and producer at Only Sports who lives and breathes sport, with a particular burning passion for everything soccer, rugby league, and cricket. You’ll most commonly find him getting overly hopeful about the Bulldogs and Chelsea’s prospects. Find Kyle on LinkedIn.

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