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Our experts pick the NRL’s top 24 players heading into season 2024

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nrl top players 2024

By Ely Corliss & Phil Prior

The Rugby League calendar has ticked over and our minds are too.

And given we’re now moving into season 2024, there’s an obvious numerical theme to be abided by, as we project out the NRL’s top players for the new season.

It’s an exercise that drew plenty of audience last year, so we’re going again.

But a year’s a long time in Rugby League, of course. Pardon the cliche.

So this year’s list certainly doesn’t look exactly like 2023’s version.

And speaking of the list, let’s get to it — here are the NRL’s best 24 players for season 2024.

READ EVERY POSITIONAL TOP 10: FLBS, WINGS, CTRS, HALVES, HKRS, EDGES, MIDDLES

NRL’s top 24 players for season 2024

How’d we settle on this list? Two of our biggest rugby league nuffies were separated, told to put together their top 24 players for season 2024, and then we averaged out the two lists.

You can find each of Ely and Phil’s lists down the bottom of the story. Let’s get into it.

1. Nathan Cleary

nathan cleary, penrith panthers
Panthers star Nathan Cleary tops the list.

Coming in at number one on our list of the best NRL players is the one the only Nathan Cleary.

Now a three-time premiership winner with the Penrith Panthers, Cleary has established himself as the outright best player in the game, following his individual brilliance to steer Penrith past Brisbane in the Grand Final. 

At only 26 years old, Cleary is reaching what’s meant to be the peak age for a footballer — a scary prospect considering what we’ve already seen from him.

WATCH CLEARY’S INVOLVEMENT IN PENRITH’S STUNNING GF COMEBACK

2. Payne Haas

Very rarely in the history of rugby league in Australia has a forward been considered a top three player in the comp, but Payne Haas is the exception. 

Having won a record five consecutive player of the year awards at the Broncos, Haas has become the most revered forward, with his damaging ball running, tackle breaking ability and offloading. 

Having already appeared in over ten State of Origin games and now a Grand Final, Haas is building plenty of big game experience at only 24.

3. Harry Grant

harry grant, nrl's best players
Storm magician Harry Grant

Coming in at number three on our best NRL players list is Australian, Maroons and Melbourne Storm hooker Harry Grant — the only full-time no. 9 on this list. 

Following in the footsteps of legend Cameron Smith, Grant has proven to be one of the most valuable players going around with his excellent ball use, mixed with his elite running game. 

On some serious coin at the Storm, it will be interesting to see whether he repays the faith by taking the Storm to the next level throughout the 2024 season.

4. Cameron Munster

Staying with the Storm, Cam Munster has been widely considered one of the best players going around since 2020, helping lead Melbourne to their fifth* premiership in 13 years and only a week later played one of the great State of Origin series of all-time. 

Although Munster was patchy during the 2023 season, there’s no denying that when the big moments arrive and you need a star player to deliver, he’s the guy you want.

5. Pat Carrigan

It was only in 2020 that Patty Carrigan was a part of the Broncos’ worst season in their illustrious history. Now, he’s one of the main reasons they are once again a powerhouse of the NRL. 

Through his incredible leadership both by actions and words (him Mic’d up against the Tigers is a great watch), Carrigan has played a vital role in reshaping the Broncos — and his increasing exposure to representative football can’t hurt. 

At only 25 years old, Carrigan, along with teammate Payne Haas, are shaping up to the two-headed snake that no team wants to face.

6. Nicho Hynes

nicho hynes, nrl, dally m 2022
Sharks half Nicho Hynes claimed the 2022 Dally M medal.

Dally M-winning half Nicho Hynes is still out to prove certain doubters he can bring his best on the biggest of stages. But some of that criticism is overblown. The fact is, he’s an incredibly silky footballer that’s elevated his Sharks side into a team competing in finals.

Brad Fittler, as coach of the Blues, set Hynes up to fail last season and that had an unfortunate lingering impact when he returned to club football. But another year of consistently elite play should help silence the scepticism; he’s a top class footballer.

7. Reece Walsh

It was clear the main thing missing from Brisbane was a decent fullback, but Reece Walsh was much, much more than that. 

Going from a struggling Warriors team to a Broncos side that just missed the eight in 2022, Walsh proved to be the final piece of the puzzle Brisbane needed to make a serious run for the premiership. 

His electric pace, incredible vision and unmatched ability to break a game open not only makes him one of the best NRL players going around, but arguably the best fullback in the competition.

reece walsh, nrl

8. Kalyn Ponga

It was a rollercoaster of a 2023 season for Newcastle fullback Kalyn Ponga. From dealing with more concussions that forced him overseas for rehab, to being dropped from Queensland’s Origin team, all the way to starring for the Knights at the back end of the year and winning the Dally M for Player of the Year. 

As NRL fans, we should be thanking our lucky stars (pardon the pun) that for the next decade we will be watching Ponga and Walsh battle it out for multiple representative jerseys. Him and Newcastle have plenty to build on from 2023.

9. Dylan Edwards

There’s no way that a three-time premiership-winning fullback and Clive Churchill medalist should miss the top 10. Edwards may not have the flashiness of a Walsh or a Ponga, but the reliability he provides a side just can’t be underestimated.

And labeling him as merely ‘reliable’ undoubtedly undersells what he offers. Edwards continually averages over 200 run metres per game and the tackle-breaking and metres gained stats are some of the best in the competition.

10. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui

tino Fa'asuamaleaui, nrl, top players

Rounding out our top 10 is none other than the Gold Coast Titans captain, who’s also a valuable enforcer for both the Queensland and Australian representative teams. Still in the front half of his career, Tino has won at every level of the game — club, State and World Cup.

The next thing on Fa’asuamaleaui’s ‘to-do-list’ is spearhead his Titans to a deep finals run; and it seems as though Gold Coast continues putting more of the necessary pieces in place to complement their captain’s consistently elite production.

11. Stephen Crichton

When you think of big game players, it’s hard to not think of Stephen Crichton — known for having scored in each of the last four Grand Finals. When the tide was turning in the 2023 decider, Crichton was right there playing ‘Robin’ to Nathan Cleary’s ‘Batman’.

Off to the Bulldogs now, where he’ll shift to fullback, Crichton will show off his versatility and almost unmatched competitiveness. We’ll see whether his arrival can elevate the Bulldogs into a more competitive outfit.

stephen crichton, nrl

12. Cam Murray

South Sydney plummeted last season and ended up missing finals — Cam Murray just couldn’t do it all on his own. There’s no denying the talent and work rate of Murray, who has proven time and again that he always finds ways to impact games.

Heading into the Pacific Championship final, Murray had been on a try-scoring tear, equalling Ron Coote’s record of most consecutive games scoring a try for Australia with six. His leg speed as a power forward makes him one of the game’s best.

13. James Fisher-Harris

There probably hasn’t been enough respect put on James Fisher-Harris’ name in recent years. But after leading Penrith’s three-peat forward pack, and captaining New Zealand to an upset Pacific Championship title to end the 2023 season, it’s time to bow down to his greatness.

His aggression, work rate and tackling ability have been the hallmarks of who he is and will be needed again throughout 2024, if Penrith are to go all the way for a fourth straight time.

14. Shaun Johnson

shaun johnson, nrl

The ‘Wahs’ have become everyone’s second team, and the heartbeat of that side is no other than former Golden Boot winner Shaun Johnson.

Arguably robbed of what was meant to be his Dally M in 2023, Johnson somehow wound back the clock, leading the Warriors through to a Prelim — an unbelievable achievement, considering they finished 15th the year before. He’s getting long in the tooth, but has evolved gracefully and his impact will be paramount to New Zealand’s chances in 2024.

15. Ezra Mam

What a rise. Some may say he’s not there yet and this ranking involves some recency bias, after his incredible three-try effort in the Grand Final. But others will argue he’s been there for a while now and that was merely his coming out party.

Mam has done an incredible amount in his first two seasons. Obviously no one is questioning his attacking capabilities, but defensively he also cuts blokes in half. The Broncos need to do everything they can to secure Mam long term.

16. Dylan Brown

Brown won’t be winning any popularity contests after his regretful off-field actions last season, but his on-pitch play the last two years is impossible to ignore.

At 23 years of age, the best is still most likely yet to come. And he’s everything you want in a modern five-eighth; busy, physical, fast, has a strong running game, is a great one-on-one tackler, and is versatile enough to be slotted anywhere in the backline in case of an emergency.

17. Ben Hunt

NRL 2023, Ben Hunt

Ben Hunt is pure class as a footballer and would be higher based off past production. But this exercise involves projecting out how we think things look as season 2024 unravels and at the time of publishing, he’s still a Dragons player… which means he’s playing for a terribly run football team and he’s not where he wants to be. That’s not a great environment to be in; therefore, he won’t be at his brilliant best.

All that said, he’s been an enormous bandaid at the Red V in recent seasons; his production has masked a lot of the club’s deep deficiencies. His pending exit might just reveal the extent of his importance.

18. Tom Trbojevic

‘Turbo’ is obviously one of those players that’s tough to rank. When he strings together sustained football, he’s one of the best in the world.

But his last two seasons, since putting together a mesmerising 2021 Dally M-winning campaign, have been plagued by injuries — an unavoidable part of the Tom Trbojevic story, unfortunately.

tom trbojevic, nrl, top players

19. Brian To’o

To’o is the premiere ball-carrying winger in rugby league, churning out a mindblowingly consistent amount of tough carries every time he laces on the boots. Some say he’s one of the toughest dudes in the NRL to tackle, with his speed, bulk and low centre of gravity.

The Panthers winger might not excel under the high ball, but his finishing prowess close to opposition trylines is also in the upper echelon at his position. In general, he very rarely lets anyone down.

20. Briton Nikora

Nikora is arguably the best edge forward in the world, but his efforts at times go under the radar because of his Kiwi roots — and therefore ineligibility to show the world what he’s capable of in the Origin arena.

He took his game to new heights again last season with strong work-rate and an impactful running game on the right of Cronulla’s ruck. At 26 years of age, he’s at the peak of his powers.

briton nikora, sharks
Sharks and Kiwis edge forward Briton Nikora

21. Isaah Yeo

Yeo’s a tough one. He probably deserves to be higher on this list, but the Penrith lock suffered a bit of a PR hit last season after New South Wales suffered another failed Origin campaign.

Critics question whether the Panthers’ system elevates his reputation as one of the comp’s best middle forwards — it’s up for debate. Regardless, he’s a high quality lock that superbly mixes hard work with attacking polish in the middle of the park.

22. Liam Martin

Martin’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but his impact jumps off the screen. His all-round game for Penrith is undeniable and he let down absolutely nobody at representative level last year too, proving he’s not a product of his club system.

The edge forward went close to winning the Brad Fittler Medal for best NSW player in 2023, but settled for the True Blue Award.

23. Herbie Farnworth

The now-former Bronco put forward his case as arguably the best centre in the game in 2023, claiming a start in the Dally M Team of the Year.

The Dolphins have nailed this recruitment; they’re bringing in a back that’s a busy worker and all class when the ball’s in his vicinity.

herbie farnworth, nrl 2024
Former Broncos centre Herbie Farnworth joins the Dolphins in 2024.

24. Daly Cherry-Evans

Just making the cut is Queensland and Sea Eagles veteran DCE, whose smarts continue ensuring his club outfit are put in positions to succeed, despite regularly going up against sides with stronger packs and better depth.

His kicking game remains elite, the ball-playing is still there, his support game is valuable and his ability to identify the right times to tuck and run all continue to be strings to his bow.

What’s 25-30 in the rankings?

These are the unlucky ones, who just missed out on our top 24.

25. Latrell Mitchell

26. Clint Gutherson

27. Cody Walker

28. David Fifita

29. Selwyn Cobbo

30. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow

Latrell Mitchell might feel aggrieved, because we all know what his best looks like. But the inconsistency down the stretch of 2023, and patchy effort, was an eye-opener.

The reality is, all six of these players are capable of having huge 2024 campaigns.

hamiso tabuai-fidow
Dolphins flier Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow rounds out the top 30.

Our expert’s individual top 24s for 2024

Ely Corliss’ top 24:

  1. Nathan Cleary
  2. Payne Haas
  3. Cam Munster
  4. Reece Walsh
  5. Pat Carrigan
  6. Kalyn Ponga
  7. Harry Grant
  8. Stephen Crichton
  9. Cam Murray
  10. Nicho Hynes
  11. James Fisher-Harris
  12. Dylan Edwards
  13. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
  14. Ben Hunt
  15. Brian To’o
  16. Liam Martin
  17. Herbie Farnworth
  18. Isaah Yeo
  19. Shaun Johnson
  20. Latrell Mitchell
  21. David Fifita
  22. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
  23. Api Koroisau
  24. Ezra Mam

Phil Prior’s top 24:

  1. Nathan Cleary
  2. Harry Grant
  3. Payne Haas
  4. Nicho Hynes
  5. Pat Carrigan
  6. Dylan Edwards
  7. Cam Munster
  8. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
  9. Kalyn Ponga
  10. Ezra Mam
  11. Reece Walsh
  12. Shaun Johnson
  13. Dylan Brown
  14. Stephen Crichton
  15. Tom Trbojevic
  16. Briton Nikora
  17. Cam Murray
  18. Daly Cherry-Evans
  19. James Fisher-Harris
  20. Clint Gutherson
  21. Cody Walker
  22. Selwyn Cobbo
  23. Isaah Yeo
  24. Joe Tapine

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