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The NRL draw has landed, with sugar, spice and, for some, things not so nice in 2024.
Gripes can be found anywhere if that’s what you’re looking for, and positive spin, too, in equal measure. And with an eye to the biggest potential issues and form lines of next season, there’s no shortage of talking points.
Running of the Bunny
No team finds themselves in the spotlight more than South Sydney, and it’ll be more of the same in 2024 given the club’s coaching upheaval and a draw that delivers 13 clashes with top eight teams from last season – the equal-most of any side.
The devil is in the detail here for Jason Demetriou given the Rabbitohs much-discussed slide throughout this year’s representative period.
Along with the Titans, South Sydney are the first team to knock over all three byes by round 17 – just after Origin II. It’s a fine chance to bank points but also means a long run home. That’s where the Bunnies went to water this year.
That final 10 weeks is no picnic either. Aside from two games against back-to-back wooden spooners the Wests Tigers, the Rabbitohs will be running the gauntlet into the finals – with Parramatta, Canberra, Cronulla, Melbourne, Newcastle, Penrith and the Roosters rounding out their last 10 weeks. Demetriou has a new deal and war wounds to show for it from this past winter. The next will tell us how much he and his players learned from them.
The Rabbitohs fell off a cliff in the back half of 2023.Credit: Getty
Eels given the slip
A bit like fellow high-profile casualties South Sydney, the Eels have a potentially rough finish to 2024, even with the Tigers and Dragons in their final fortnight.
It’s preceded by a brutal run against Melbourne, the Warriors, Penrith, Roosters and Brisbane – the early wins that didn’t happen in 2023 will be critical next year.
Thirteen clashes against top-eight sides and seven against last year’s semi-finalists are the equal-most of any team. And once again, Brad Arthur’s side has drawn fresh opponents repeatedly, playing five teams after they have put their feet up with the bye.
The Origin of influence
A club will always take Origin players, even with all the potential upheaval, injuries and fatigue the interstate juggernaut brings every year.
Still, the apprehension is always there, and this season the Dolphins will feel it more than most given they are only club without a bye leading into any of the Origin games – potentially costing them Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Tom Flegler, Tom Gilbert and Felise Kaufusi during those mid-season games.
The Dragons, meanwhile, are quietly quite chuffed by being drawn against Penrith and Brisbane when their Origin contingents will be in NSW and Queensland camps.
The Origin beast will be all-encompassing again in 2023.Credit: Getty
A collective push by clubs for the series to be condensed from six weeks didn’t come off this year. It won’t be the last we hear of it.
And while on Origin, the overdue move to a three-game series for the women’s fixture has been warmly received.
But the timing of the code’s state competitions – effectively reserve grade beneath the NRLW – is critical given Origin I is opening Magic Round on May 16, and eyeing a record crowd at Suncorp Stadium.
The quality of last year’s series opener was undermined by players coming into the contest with little game time, but a potential round-robin tournament has been touted as a solution.
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