They’re the workhorses who lay the platform for the spine to do what it does best — but which middle forwards are the NRL’s most elite as we head into 2024?
For this list of the best middle forwards in the NRL, we have combined the positions of front rower and lock, just like they would for NRL Fantasy — if you’re looking for any players to target.
The competition is stacked with powerful front rowers and locks that are expected to lead from the front with strong carries and overall toughness. Defensively, their efficient tackling and unrivalled work-rate are relied upon to ensure sides remain as unbreachable as possible.
Over the past few years, there have been major renovations to a middle forward’s role, with rule changes rendering locks to act as third halves, directing play and ball-playing too. In the quicker modern game, props are expected to play bigger minutes, while they’re now as mobile as some backs were in bygone eras.
Whatever top 10 we settle on, we were determined to build a more balanced and logical list than what you’ll find in other click-hungry publications — keep that in mind.
NRL’s 10 best middle forwards for season 2024
So here are our 10 best middle forwards for 2024.
We’ve decided to combine the two ‘middle forward’ positions – front row and lock – to make this list essentially the best ‘big men’ list currently in the league.
Note that we’ve generously considered 2023 form along with what we know they’re capable of based on previous output.
1. Payne Haas
Topping our best middle forwards list as we enter the 2024 season is none other than Brisbane Broncos powerhouse front rower Payne Haas.
Very rarely in the history of rugby league in Australia has a forward been considered a top-three player in the competition. Payne Haas is definitely in that conversation.
Having won a record five consecutive Player of the Year awards at the Brisbane Broncos, Haas has become the game’s most revered forward largely thanks to his damaging ball running, tackle-breaking ability and offloading.
Haas was top three in his position in average metres gained (187), total post-contact metres (1,663), tackle efficiency (98.5%), tackle breaks (113), and offloads (50) while boasting the fewest errors (2).
Having already appeared in over ten State of Origin games and a Grand Final, Haas is building plenty of big game experience at only 24.
2. 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 again a competition powerhouse.
An incredible leader through both actions and words (him Mic’d up against the Tigers is a great watch), Carrigan has played a vital role in reshaping Brisbane. His increasing exposure to representative football will only benefit his future progression.
With himself and Payne Haas now the best duo out of any middle forwards in the NRL, the two look primed to lead the Broncos into a golden era.
3. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
Rounding out our top three is none other than Gold Coast Titans captain, who’s also a valuable enforcer for both the Queensland and Australian representative teams. Still in the early 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 to spearhead his Titans through 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, bringing in premiership-winning coach Des Hasler.
But what Tino does better than most middle forwards is lead by example — averaging 168 metres a game, totalling 1,217 post-contact metres, 52 tackle breaks, and 33 offloads in 2023.
4. Isaah Yeo
Isaah Yeo’s a tough one. He probably deserves to be higher on this list, but the Penrith lock suffers from being part of a side that has so much star power his excellence flies a little under the radar.
Critics question whether the Panthers’ system elevates his reputation as one of the competition’s best middle forwards — it’s up for debate. Regardless, he’s a high-quality lock who superbly blends hard work with attacking polish in the middle of the park.
He carries the ball more than most forwards making just under 160 metres a match in 2023, he’s difficult to put down as well, but what makes him so special is his ability to partner his attack with brutal defence — 39 tackles a game at 97% efficiency.
5. Cameron Murray
There’s no hiding from it, 2023 wasn’t Cam Murray’s best year, but if there’s one thing we are certain of happening in 2024 it’s that he’ll come back better than ever with the Souths’ captain’s eye focused on a premiership.
Although it was an average season for Murray’s standards, it was elite compared to the rest of the NRL, running for around 130 metres a game, making 41 tackles while barely missing a tackle at 95% efficiency.
He’s also proven to be such a versatile forward, able to play front row if asked but mainly playing lock for the Rabbitohs week-in-week-out. Murray is consistently chucked on the edge in representative footy where he could arguably be one of the best edge forwards — but we’ve already made our selections for that position here.
6. Joe Tapine
Joe Tapine is close to the perfect middle-forward package you could ask for — strong, tall build, not easy to stop, able to generate second-phase plays, and very rarely makes mistakes.
In a position with expectations of laying a foundation for your outside backs and halves to shine, Tapine is constantly delivering on his role and is a victim of being on a side that has lacked cohesion in those key positions.
Any forward that runs for over 150 metres a game should be considered one of the best, but not only does Tapine do that, he breaks tackles at a ridiculous rate, and has a knack for keeping the play alive with his offloading.
7. James Fisher-Harris
James Fisher-Harris being this low may ruffle a couple of feathers since he’s been the most intimidating forward in a side that has won three straight premierships. However, team success is only a part of the equation.
He’s the definition of a damaging player, wreaking havoc on opposition defences with his 25-30 minute stints of pure energy and aggression that usually can swing the momentum in his side’s favour.
In 2024, it’s possible we see him take on an even bigger role considering live wire interchange star Spencer Leniu is on the move to the Roosters.
8. Addin Fonua-Blake
When you’re combining props and locks to make a best middle forwards list for 2024, players that are top three to top five in their position can slip down to what seems disrespectful but genuinely isn’t — and that’s the case here with AFB.
Addin Fonua-Blake was not only a ‘Dally M Prop of the Year’, but he was also one of the biggest reasons the Warriors made a deep finals run last season, with damaging ball running, an inability to be stopped (averaging a league-high 1,670 post-contact metres), and a reliable defence.
2024 will be his last across the ditch with the ‘Wahs’ before joining the Cronulla Sharks. There’s plenty of belief that he will want to finish his tenure in New Zealand on a high.
9. Tohu Harris
New Zealand Warriors captain Tohu Harris is one of the NRL’s best leaders in not only words but actions, constantly bouncing back from injuries to help his side succeed.
It was clear under Andrew Webster that he wanted Harris to have a bigger role in attack, carrying the ball more, making more post-contact metres, and in defence, Harris averaged 40 tackles a game (third amongst the best middle forwards).
His biggest question mark going forward is obviously his health, with Harris missing a few games last season due to injury and has played under 20 games a year five out of the past seven seasons.
10. Moe Fotuaika
Rounding out our best middle forwards list as we enter the 2024 season is Gold Coast Titans front-rower Moe Fotuaika who continues to expand his game year in, year out.
Fotuaika was one of seven middles to run for over 150 metres a game with his unrelenting energy and aggression that saw him make 1,128 post-contact metres.
With Des Hasler now at the Titans who helped the playing careers of solid forwards such as Brent Kite and Jake Trbojevic, maybe it’s Fotuaika who’s next for a big season in 2024.