NRL 2023: The biggest hole in each club’s roster

Pre-season is officially underway across the NRL, with all 17 clubs beginning preparations for a massive 2023 campaign. 

Most clubs still have room to move in their salary cap and add players to their top 30 roster, and there will be plenty of coaches looking to fix certain parts of their squad. 

The Sporting News have taken a look across all the NRL squads, the off-contract lists and will try to help each club fill their biggest hole. 

MORE: Round 1 predicted team lists | Every club’s top 30 roster | NRL off-contract list

Brisbane Broncos: Hooker

WHO THEY’VE GOT: Billy Walters, Cory Paix, Blake Mozer

There’s not a lot of quality hooking depth at the Broncos and it could be the major thing that holds them back from becoming a top-four side.

Billy Walters has earned a new deal with the club after a solid 2022 campaign, but still feels better suited to a bench utility role. Cory Paix is a handy back-up and can also fill the No.14 position, but doesn’t jump off the page as a starting hooker that can lead a team to glory. Jake Turpin departed in the off-season, but was out of favour under Kevin Walters. 

Young gun Blake Mozer is a player to watch in the future, but at only 18 years of age isn’t quite ready for the full-time position. 

WHO IS AVAILBLE: Damien Cook, Tom Starling, Tyran Wishart, Jayden Berrell, Soni Luke, Siliva Havili, Jake Turpin, Jake Granville, Mitch Rein, Chris Randall

The best player on this list is undoubtedly Damien Cook – but will he leave South Sydney? Although it’s unlikely, people said the same thing about Adam Reynolds.

Apart from that, a lot of the hookers who are off-contract at the end of 2023 are not exactly marquee names. Tom Starling is young and adds plenty of spark, while a player like Tyran Wishart has shown glimpses of quality in limited opportunities at Melbourne. 

Canberra Raiders: Lock

WHO THEY’VE GOT: Corey Horsburgh, Corey Harawira-Naera

Following the departures of both Ryan Sutton and Adam Elliott in the off-season, Canberra are without a recognised lock-forward heading into 2023.

Corey Horsburgh is the likely candidate to start the year in No.13 despite being more of a prop, while Corey Harawira-Naera is probably more suited to an edge-forward role. 

Given how important the likes of Isaah Yeo, Cameron Murray and Victor Radley are to their respective sides, this is one clear weakness in a solid roster. 

WHO IS AVAILABLE: Victor Radley, Kurt Mann, Nathan Brown, Connor Watson, Josh King, Egan Butcher, Tepai Moeroa, Alex Seyfarth

The most obvious option that the Raiders could target for 2024 and beyond is Victor Radley, but it would be a tough task to lure him away from the Roosters. 

Nathan Brown is an experienced, hard-nosed player that can fill a gap for a year or two. Egan Butcher and Connor Watson are quality players who could be after a starting role, while Kurt Mann is a smaller player who could play the roaming forward role and act as an extra ball-player. 

Canterbury Bulldogs: Halfback

WHO THEY’VE GOT: Kyle Flanagan, Bailey Biondi-Odo

It has been abundantly clear for quite some time that Canterbury are lacking a quality No.7 and it doesn’t look like it will change heading into 2023.

As it stands, Kyle Flanagan is the only genuine halfback in the club’s top 30 roster. Bailey Biondi-Odo will be sidelined for a large chunk of the year due to an ACL injury, while both Brandon Wakeham and Zach Dockar-Clay were released at the end of 2022.

Flanagan is a steady option and defends well, but offers very little spark or attacking prowess, which is something the Dogs need if they are to become a top-eight outfit. 

WHO IS AVAILABLE: Mitchell Moses, Sam Walker, Lachlan Ilias, Luke Brooks, Shaun Johnson, Braydon Trindall, Adam Clune, Brad Schneider

There isn’t much chance for them to sign an elite playmaker to partner Matt Burton for next season, but there are already reports that the Bulldogs are circling Mitchell Moses as a long-term option for 2024 and beyond. 

Moses would be the obvious choice, but the likes of Sam Walker and Lachlan Ilias have already shown glimpses of their potential in the top grade and could be targets. 

Cronulla Sharks: Second-row

WHO THEY’VE GOT: Briton Nikora, Wade Graham, Teig Wilton

Despite having one of the better second-row forwards in the competition in Briton Nikora, this is still a position that Cronulla lack some quality depth in.

Wade Graham has inked a one-year extension, which will likely be his last season, while Teig Wilton is a solid young player who has potential to become a long-term option on the edge.

But besides that, Craig Fitzgibbon isn’t flush with players in the position he excelled in during his own playing career and it is certainly a spot he will want to bolster up in the coming months. 

WHO IS AVAILABLE: Jeremiah Nanai, David Fifita, Liam Martin, Scott Sorensen, Ethan Bullemor, Bayley Sironen, Mitchell Dunn, Tyson Frizell, Tyrell Fuimaono, Tariq Sims, Corey Waddell, Brodie Jones, Trent Loiero, Jed Cartwright, Billy Burns, Jack Johns, Jack Gosiewski, Mavrik Geyer, Tuki Simpkins

There are an abundance of quality edge forwards who are off-contract at the end of 2023, and topping that list are Jeremiah Nanai and David Fifita. Both men are still very young and have plenty of good footy ahead of them, but will come with a hefty pricetag.

Better value options for Cronulla could include players like Ethan Bullemor or Brodie Jones, who have shown glimpses of quality early in the careers and could benefit from playing in a stronger roster. 

Dolphins: Lock

WHO THEY’VE GOT: Ray Stone, Herman Ese’ese

While you could argue the Dolphins need to fill a lot of holes in their roster, the position that stands out the most on paper is lock-forward.

Ray Stone is coming off a horror ACL injury with Parramatta, and was mainly used as a bench utility player during his time there. The club’s only other real option in the No.13 jumper is Herman Ese’ese, who played just 13 games in a struggling Gold Coast outfit in 2022. 

Given the way the game is played now and the importance of players such as Cameron Murray and Isaah Yeo, this is certainly a spot that Wayne Bennett will be looking to fix. 

WHO IS AVAILABLE: Victor Radley, Kurt Mann, Nathan Brown, Connor Watson, Josh King, Egan Butcher, Tepai Moeroa, Alex Seyfarth

Bennett won’t be overly excited by the list of lock-forwards who are off-contract heading into 2024.

Victor Radley is the clear standout and it’s not even close, but there is no reason to believe the Roosters would get rid of a rare local talent who they have invested so much time in.

But another player at Bondi – Egan Butcher – could be a possible target, with the South Eastern junior unlikely to earn a starting spot at his current club. Kurt Mann and Nathan Brown are both solid options, but not enough to excite the Dolphins fan base. 

MORE: Get summer sport ready with up to 50% off this Black Friday sale at Barbeques Galore

Gold Coast Titans: Prop

WHO THEY’VE GOT: Moeaki Fotuaika, Isaac Liu, Jaimin Jolliffe 

Gold Coast have a very solid starting forward pack – but their lack of depth at prop could hurt them. 

Moeaki Fotuaika is still early in his career but has already played State of Origin and has a fantastic work-rate, despite a down 2022 campaign. Isaac Liu can get a job done up front but is in the twilight of his career, while Jaimin Jolliffe is a solid bench option.

Outside of that, there isn’t much in the front-row for Justin Holbrook to choose from and he should be looking at recruiting some big boppers. 

WHO IS AVAILABLE: Tom Flegler, Luke Thompson, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Spencer Leniu, Thomas Burgess, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jordan McLean, Royce Hunt, Tui Kamikamica, Hame Sele, Blake Lawrie, Toafofoa Sipley, Bunty Afoa, Corey Jensen, Emre Guler, Aaron Woods, Chris Patolo, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Josh Kerr, Terrell May, Ofahiki Ogden, Liam Knight, Michael Molo, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, Wiremu Greig, Zane Musgrove, Fletcher Baker, Eddie Blacker, Renouf Atoni, Martin Taupau (2023), George Burgess (2023), Ava Seumanufagai (2023)

As far as 2023 goes, Gold Coast should absolutely be looking at a player like Martin Taupau. Although he is only a short-term fix, he would add experience to the club and still has the ability to punch out big numbers in the middle of the field.

Looking further ahead, Broncos firebrand Tom Flegler is only up the road in Brisbane and should be a primary target. The likes of Tui Kamikamica and Spencer Leniu could also be decent pick-ups for the Titans at the right price. 

Manly Sea Eagles: Five-eighth

WHO THEY’VE GOT: Josh Schuster, Kaeo Weekes

Manly have put essentially all of their faith in Josh Schuster to play five-eighth long-term – but will the gamble pay off?

After a poor 2022 season in the second-row after breaking out in 2021, Schuster needs to strip plenty of weight and improve his fitness if he wants to play in the No.6 jumper in the NRL.

Kieran Foran has moved on and will link up with the Titans, while the only other option left in the club is young gun Kaeo Weekes, who is untested in the top grade. 

WHO IS AVAILABLE: Dylan Brown, Cody Walker, Jack Wighton, Matt Burton, Adam Doueihi, Lachlan Miller, Paul Turner, Jayden Nikorima, Ben Hampton, Will Smith, Phoenix Crossland (2023) 

If the Schuster experiment doesn’t work, there are plenty of options on the open market for Manly – but unfortunately, their salary cap likely won’t allow them to move for the likes of Dylan Brown and Matt Burton.

Instead, new head coach Anthony Seibold should be looking at Phoenix Crossland immediately. While the Knights playmaker hasn’t set the world on fire, he is still young enough and could benefit from a change of scenery as a back-up to Schuster and Daly Cherry-Evans. 

Melbourne Storm: Second-row 

WHO THEY’VE GOT: Tariq Sims, Eliesa Katoa, Trent Loiero, Bronson Garlick

After a lengthy period of being able to rely on the edge forward combination of Felise Kaufusi and Kenny Bromwich, Melbourne have lost both men to the Dolphins and will need new faces to step up.

Tariq Sims has moved down to the Storm, but has been in poor form for the Dragons in recent years and is nearing the end of his NRL career. 

Their other options on the edge in the club’s top 30 are young forwards in Eliesa Katoa, who has signed on from the Warriors, and Trent Loiero, who was at the club last season and looked solid. 

WHO IS AVAILABLE: Jeremiah Nanai, David Fifita, Liam Martin, Teig Wilton, Scott Sorensen, Ethan Bullemor, Bayley Sironen, Mitchell Dunn, Tyson Frizell, Tyrell Fuimaono, Corey Waddell, Brodie Jones, Jed Cartwright, Billy Burns, Jack Johns, Jack Gosiewski, Mavrik Geyer, Tuki Simpkins

While the Storm aren’t known for making big-money signings from other NRL clubs, the temptation may be there to look at both Jeremiah Nanai and David Fifita. 

If they can avoid that temptation, a player like Scott Sorensen could fill a hole for a few years and has proven himself to be an integral part of Penrith’s success, while Mitchell Dunn would be the prototypical Melbourne signing and has plenty of good football ahead of him. 

Newcastle Knights: Fullback

WHO THEY’VE GOT: Bailey Hodgson, Kalyn Ponga

While captain Kalyn Ponga is still one of the best fullbacks in the competition, the QLD Origin star is set for a move to the halves next year and this creates a major hole in the No.1 jumper. 

Bailey Hodgson has been at the club since the beginning of 2021, but is yet to make his first grade debut. At 20 years of age, it would be a major gamble to throw him to the wolves for Round 1, but stranger things have happened. 

Who is available: Latrell Mitchell, Joseph Sua’ali’i, Stephen Crichton, Herbie Farnworth, Will Kennedy, Daine Laurie, Tesi Niu, Jake Averillo, Nick Meaney, Albert Hopoate, Lachlan Miller, Charlie Staines, Moses Mbye, Blake Taaffe, Paul Turner, Kayal Iro, Terell Kalo Kalo 

Newcastle have made no secret of their desire to sign a fullback, with links to both Lachlan Miller and Tesi Niu in recent weeks. 

While the Cronulla back-up has been told he won’t be released early, Niu looks set to be granted an early exit from the Broncos and at this stage, the Knights look like the front-runners for his signature.

Looking longer-term, Newcastle could certainly throw big money at the likes of Stephen Crichton and Herbie Farnworth, who are both in the centres for their respective clubs but have expressed their desire to play fullback during their careers. 

New Zealand Warriors: Hooker

WHO THEY’VE GOT: Wayde Egan, Taniela Otukolo, Freddy Lussick

The issue for the Warriors isn’t the depth across most positions in their NRL squad – it’s the quality of players that are at Andrew Webster’s disposal. 

While they have three noted hookers in their top 30 heading into next season, none of the men who are vying for the No.9 jumper are elite compared to a lot of clubs. 

Wayde Egan is an honest and solid operator, but isn’t the type of dummy-half who is going to win them a premiership. Taniela Otukolo is a talented young player, but has received limited opportunities in the top grade. 

WHO IS AVAILABLE: Damien Cook, Tom Starling, Tyran Wishart, Jayden Berrell, Soni Luke, Siliva Havili, Jake Turpin, Jake Granville, Mitch Rein, Chris Randall

Looking across the NRL, the options for the Warriors to recruit in the hooker position are rather slim.

Damien Cook is the standout option, but apart from that they should look at a player like Tom Starling, who has the ability to change games with his speed and vision around the ruck.

Tyran Wishart has spent time in the Storm system and could be seeking an opportunity to start in his preferred position long-term. 

North Queensland Cowboys: Prop

WHO THEY’VE GOT: Reuben Cotter, Jordan McLean, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, Coen Hess, Griffin Neame, James Tamou

It’s extremely difficult to poke holes anywhere in North Queensland’s roster. They have a fantastic top 17 and their depth is pretty good across the board, which will make them a genuine threat for the title once again.

Reuben Cotter is a fantastic player and has locked down a spot in the Cowboys, Queensland and Australian side for a long time. Apart from the 23-year-old though, North Queensland are perhaps lacking one more quality NRL prop in the longer-term. 

James Tamou is only at the club for one season and will likely head for retirement, while the jury is still out on Jamayne Taunoa-Brown.

Coen Hess and Jordan McLean are still around and can do a job, while Griffin Neame is a brilliant young player with unlimited potential. 

WHO IS AVAILABLE: Tom Flegler, Luke Thompson, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Spencer Leniu, Thomas Burgess, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Royce Hunt, Tui Kamikamica, Hame Sele, Blake Lawrie, Toafofoa Sipley, Bunty Afoa, Corey Jensen, Emre Guler, Aaron Woods, Chris Patolo, Josh Kerr, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Terrell May, Ofahiki Ogden, Liam Knight, Michael Molo, Wiremu Greig, Zane Musgrove, Fletcher Baker, Eddie Blacker, Renouf Atoni, Martin Taupau (2023), George Burgess (2023), Ava Seumanufagai (2023), Ryan James (2023)

North Queensland don’t need to go and sign a massive name from another club to bolster their middle-forward stocks, but there are some good depth options or younger players who they could look at.

Emre Guler and Chris Patolo have both shown some glimpses of upside and are still early in their careers, while players like Josh Kerr and Toafofoa Sipley could benefit from a change in scenery. 

Parramatta Eels: Centre

WHO THEY’VE GOT: Will Penisini, Bailey Simonsson, Waqa Blake, Daejarn Asi

Following the exit of Tom Opacic, Parramatta are left with only one definite centre in the backline for next year.

Waqa Blake and Bailey Simonsson are both capable of playing the position, but are perhaps better on the wing. 

Daejarn Asi will join the Eels heading into next season, and while he is probably more suited at five-eighth or fullback, he has the ability to play in the centres as well. 

WHO IS AVAILABLE: Herbie Farnworth, Stephen Crichton, Jesse Ramien, Siosifa Talakai, Peta Hiku, Brian Kelly, Tesi Niu, Enari Tuala, Morgan Harper, Adam Pompey, Patrick Herbert, Billy Smith, Brad Parker, Corey Allan, Jarrod Croker, Brendan Elliot, Braidon Burns, Mawene Hiroti, Terrell Kalo Kalo, Tom Jenkins, Harley Smith-Shields, Paul Alamoti, Esan Marsters (2023) 

While there isn’t a hell of a lot of talent available for the short-term – only Esan Marsters is a free agent heading into 2023 – there are some fantastic centres that Parramatta could target for 2024 and beyond.

Herbie Farnworth and Stephen Crichton are the two names everybody is talking about, and for good reason. The former is an exciting player with a huge ceiling in the game, while the latter is a two-time premiership winner and has proven himself as a big-game player. 

Both those players will likely come with big pricetags however, which could see the Eels look elsewhere to fill their void out wide. Jesse Ramien and Siosifa Talakai were both in great form in 2022, while the likes of Adam Pompey and Patrick Herbert have shown glimpses of potential in poor sides. 

Penrith Panthers: Second-row

WHO THEY’VE GOT: Liam Martin, Scott Sorensen, Luke Garner, Mavrik Geyer, Zac Hosking

Let’s be real – there aren’t really any holes in the Penrith roster, having kept the majority of their back-to-back premiership-winning squad together.

But one man who won’t be there in 2023 is Viliame Kikau, who has been a major attacking weapon for the Panthers in recent years and his shoes are almost impossible to fill.

Penrith have brought in Luke Garner (Tigers) and Zac Hosking (Broncos), but neither at the same level as Kikau. Liam Martin and Scott Sorensen will both still be at the club next year and will likely lock down the two starting edge forward roles. 

WHO IS AVAILABLE: Jeremiah Nanai, David Fifita, Ethan Bullemor, Teig Wilton, Bayley Sironen, Mitchell Dunn, Tyson Frizell, Tyrell Fuimaono, Tariq Sims, Corey Waddell, Brodie Jones, Trent Loiero, Jed Cartwright, Billy Burns, Jack Johns, Jack Gosiewski, Tuki Simpkins

Would it be wise for Penrith to throw a boat load of money at someone like Jeremiah Nanai or David Fifita, when they likely have the retention of some key players already at the club to focus about? Of course not.

But what they might look at is adding depth to the position long-term with some younger players. Mitchell Dunn and Teig Wilton are two players that spring to mind, while Ethan Bullemor would benefit from getting out of Manly. 

St George Illawarra Dragons: Prop

WHO THEY’VE GOT: Blake Lawrie, Francis Molo, Michael Molo, Jaiyden Hunt, Zane Musgrove, Josh Kerr, Nick Tui-Loso

It’s no secret that St George Illawarra are skinny in the middle and are on the hunt for a quality prop. 

Blake Lawrie and Francis Molo can get the job done in a starting capacity, but outside of those two men, the Dragons are short on quality props and need to find a way to fill that gap.

Jaiyden Hunt and Michael Molo are young, raw talents with plenty of upside, but they need something more. Nick Tui-Loso comes down from QLD Cup and is a powerful ball-runner, but lacks NRL experience. 

WHO IS AVAILABLE: Tom Flegler, Luke Thompson, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Spencer Leniu, Thomas Burgess, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jordan McLean, Royce Hunt, Tui Kamikamica, Hame Sele, Toafofoa Sipley, Bunty Afoa, Corey Jensen, Emre Guler, Chris Patolo, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Terrell May, Ofahiki Ogden, Liam Knight, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, Wiremu Greig, Fletcher Baker, Eddie Blacker, Renouf Atoni, Martin Taupau (2023), Ava Seumanufagai (2023), Ryan James (2023)

St George Illawarra have already been linked with a few big boppers in recent months, but didn’t end up landing the signature of David Klemmer, who has moved to the Tigers.

But the one name for 2024 who is still available and the Dragons are keen on is Spencer Leniu, who is seeking a starting front-row role after being stuck on the bench at Penrith. Tom Flegler, Luke Thompson and Nelson Asofa-Solomona would all add some much-needed punch to the side, but would probably come with a bigger pricetag. 

In the short-term, Anthony Griffin should be looking at either Martin Taupau or Ava Seumanufagai – or both – to fill the void in the middle. 

South Sydney Rabbitohs: Wing

WHO THEY’VE GOT: Alex Johnston, Taane Milne, Izaac Thompson

While they might have one of the best wingers in the competition in Alex Johnston, South Sydney aren’t exactly flush with options for the other side of the field.

Taane Milne has been given plenty of opportunities and hasn’t made his mark, while Izaac Thompson showed some potential but lasted just two games before getting injured in 2022.

Jaxson Paulo and Josh Mansour have both moved on from the Rabbitohs, with the latter still without a club for the upcoming NRL season. 

WHO IS AVAILABLE: Brian To’o, Corey Oates, Maika Sivo, Sione Katoa, Daniel Tupou, Dominic Young, Waqa Blake, Jordan Rapana, Greg Marzhew, Edward, Kosi, Hymel Hunt, George Jennings, Jesse Arthars, Charlie Staines, Jayden Okunbor, Jordan Pereira, Alofiana Khan-Pereira, Will Warbick, Tui Katoa (2023), Kane Bradley (2023), Christian Crichton (2023)

Souths need depth on the wing in the short-term, because right now they don’t have it at all.

Kane Bradley and Tui Katoa have both had limited NRL opportunities and both young men would be hungry for a spot, while Christian Crichton is a handy back-up option. 

In the longer-term, a player like Sione Katoa or Greg Marzhew could be perfect fits for the Bunnies. If there is one thing they need, it’s a winger who can make big metres out of their own end and both those men are very strong in that department. 

Sydney Roosters: Centre

WHO THEY’VE GOT: Joey Manu, Paul Momirovski, Billy Smith 

Looking across the current roster at the Roosters, the clear issue is the centre position.

Joey Manu is the best centre in the competition and the club are lucky to have him, but on the other side of the field, they were exposed during the 2022 season.

Trent Robinson trialled plenty of different players during the course of the year, and the only out-and-out centres who remain at the club heading into next season are Paul Momirovski and Billy Smith. 

WHO IS AVAILABLE: Herbie Farnworth, Stephen Crichton, Jesse Ramien, Siosifa Talakai, Peta Hiku, Brian Kelly, Tesi Niu, Enari Tuala, Morgan Harper, Adam Pompey, Patrick Herbert, Brad Parker, Corey Allan, Jarrod Croker, Brendan Elliot, Braidon Burns, Mawene Hiroti, Terrell Kalo Kalo, Tom Jenkins, Harley Smith-Shields, Paul Alamoti, Esan Marsters (2023) 

There is only one notable centre who is still off-contract heading into next year – Esan Marsters – which leaves the Roosters scrambling to fill this void.

In the long-term, Herbie Farnworth could be a major target for Robinson and there have already been rumblings of the Tricolours making a big play for the Broncos star. Adam Pompey and Brian Kelly could both benefit from a fresh start and would be more likely to gain an early release than Farnworth. 

Wests Tigers: Centre

WHO THEY’VE GOT: Tommy Talau, Asu Kepaoa, Brent Naden, Starford To’a

Despite recruiting well in other positions, the outside backs – in particular the centres – are still a major concern for the Tigers heading into the 2023 season.

Their four main options to play in the centres are Tommy Talau, Asu Kepaoa, Brent Naden and Starford To’a. Without being disrespectful, the question is – would any of those players play first grade at a lot of other clubs?

WHO IS AVAILABLE: Herbie Farnworth, Stephen Crichton, Jesse Ramien, Siosifa Talakai, Peta Hiku, Brian Kelly, Tesi Niu, Enari Tuala, Morgan Harper, Adam Pompey, Patrick Herbert, Billy Smith, Brad Parker, Corey Allan, Jarrod Croker, Brendan Elliot, Braidon Burns, Mawene Hiroti, Terrell Kalo Kalo, Tom Jenkins, Harley Smith-Shields, Paul Alamoti, Esan Marsters (2023) 

While they don’t have much to pick from for next year, Tim Sheens and Benji Marshall need to land a major signature in the outside backs before 2024.

Herbie Farnworth and Stephen Crichton will be at the top of the list for a lot of clubs, and the Tigers should absolutely be looking at both men. 

Jesse Ramien still has plenty of good football ahead of him and would be a cheaper option than the two aforementioned names, while the likes of Tesi Niu and Adam Pompey are young talents and have plenty of upside. 

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