From Vegas to Wigan: What to look out for in the NRL in 2024

LAST week the NRL released its 2024 Premiership schedule, which will feature 204 regular season matches over 27 rounds, played across 28 venues and three countries, with plenty of Englishmen involved.

Tom Burgess will be licking his lips at the opportunity to open the NRL season under the bright lights of Allegiant Stadium next year. 

The Rabbitohs will take on the Sea Eagles in the NRL’s historic season opener in Las Vegas on March 2.

Meanwhile, new Roosters recruit Dom Young and Victor Radley will feature in the second match-up of the double header, taking on the Broncos. 

It’s an exciting time for the NRL and it’s reported that over 15,000 tickets have already been sold – many of them in Australia – for the event in a venue that seats 65,000 as the home ground of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders.

The NRL released its first 30-second commercial that will be shown on America’s Fox network, showcasing the big hits of the game and it also features one of Young’s remarkable tries against the Dragons. 

The remaining round-one fixtures will be played during the following weekend, where fans might get the chance to see Knights recruits Kai Pearce-Paul and Will Pryce in action up against the Raiders, who could feature Elliot Whitehead and Morgan Smithies. 

It will be the fans’ first chance of catching a glimpse of Herbie Farnworth donning his new red and gold colours of the Dolphins, when they take on the Cowboys at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. 

Other round-one matches include Storm v Panthers, Warriors v Sharks, Eels v Bulldogs and the Titans v Dragons. 

It means that the Tigers will have the first bye of the season, so John Bateman won’t figure on the opening weekend.

We will have a better understanding following the conclusion of the NRL’s pre-season challenge, judging by how many minutes players are playing. 

The Pre-season Challenge is set to kick-off on February 15 and will span across two weekends. 

It’s looking like Pearce-Paul will miss the start of the season because of a toe injury he has been carrying for over twelve months. 

After assessment last week, the Knights decided surgery was the best course of action for the long-term health for the 22-year-old. 

Subject to the operation’s success, KPP should be able to fill the role of departing backrower Lachlan Fitzgibbon, who has joined Warrington on a three-year-deal. 

It will be interesting to watch how Pryce goes in the pre-season challenge and where Knights’coach Adam O’Brien plans to play him. 

In the halves he will be competing with the likes of Jackson Hastings and Tyson Gamble, who were both instrumental in the Knights surge at the back end of the season. 

The Knights have also signed halfback Jack Cogger from the Panthers, who was outstanding in the NRL Grand Final last year. 

Kalyn Ponga owns the fullback jersey, so in the early stages of the season Pryce is likely to be contesting for a utility place on the Knights’ bench. 

And there is likely to be a battle in pre-season for the number nine jumper between Jayden Brailey and Phoenix Crossland.

Both pose a threat to Pryce’s hopes of a utility spot on the bench. 

Regardless of what O’Brien decides, Pryce should feature at some stage, given the likelihood of injury to some of those first-choice players.

Then there is Morgan Smithies, who you would have to expect is likely to feature in the Raiders’ outfit from the jump. 

Ricky Stuart has a great track record of recruiting English players to Australia and allowing them to thrive in his system. 

Whitehead, Bateman, Josh Hodgson and George Williams have all thrived under Stuart. 

This season is do or die for the Raiders and if they fail, they could be teetering on the edge of a rebuild, so Smithies could be in for some big minutes. 

Stuart also alluded to this season probably being Whitehead’s last, with the English international considering retirement.

Meanwhile, fans will be excited to see Herbie Farnworth unleashed at the Dolphins in 2024. 

It could be his best individual season yet as he was instrumental in the Broncos’ success in 2023. It would have been tough for Kevin Walters to see one of his best outside backs leave the club to join its Brisbane rival, and we may see him feature at fullback throughout the season. 

During the NRL season there are several themed rounds dedicated to certain causes.

The multicultural round will be celebrated in round three, ANZAC in round eight, Indigenous in round twelve, Beanie for Brain Cancer in round 15 and Women in League in round 22. 

Anzac Round will include three special matches on Anzac Day itself, with games taking place in Auckland, Sydney and Melbourne.

New Zealand Warriors will host their first ANZAC Day game on home soil since 2015 against the Titans.

The Dragons will play the Roosters in Sydney and Storm will take on the Rabbitohs in Melbourne. 

Themed rounds give clubs the opportunity to have specially designed jerseys to pay respect to the causes supported by the NRL.

Indigenous Round will include the Rabbitohs hosting the Eels on Saturday, May 25 and Broncos hosting local rivals the Titans on Sunday afternoon at Suncorp Stadium.

The NRL constructed the draw so that no team will have more than three five-day turnarounds and the total five-day turnarounds have been reduced from 30 in 2023 to 26 in 2024.

Magic Round will return to Brisbane in round eleven, featuring eight games from May 17 to 19.

But before the festivities kick-off, the first ever Women’s three-game State of Origin series commences on Thursday, May 16 at Suncorp Stadium – the night before Magic Round starts – which is expected to draw a large crowd. 

Game Two will be held at Newcastle’s McDonald Jones Stadium on Thursday, June 6 and Game Three will be held at Townsville’s Queensland Country Bank Stadium on Thursday, June 27. 

The series reflects how quickly the women’s game is growing.  

The NRLW season will kick off on July 25 featuring the same ten clubs as the 2023 season across nine rounds. 

The men’s State of Origin series will kick off at Sydney’s Accor Stadium on June 5. 

Game Two will be held on June 26 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Game Three will be held on July 17 at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. 

Other specialty games that will be held in the pre-season include the Indigenous All Stars match that will be held on Friday, February 16 at Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville. 

A week later, NRL Premiers Penrith will make the journey over to take on Wigan in the World Club Challenge, which has been slated for Saturday, February 24 at DW Stadium.

Ivan Cleary’s men will be hungry for redemption after going down to St Helens on home soil 13-12 in February. 

It’s shaping up for an exciting 2024 season for both the NRL and Super League and it will be interesting to see what changes we will see in the International Rugby League calendar over the coming months.