The ACT Brumbies will be hoping 2024 will be the year they breakthrough and claim the Super Rugby Pacific title.
Stephen Larkham's side are established as the best side in Australia, however, were eliminated in the semi-finals for the second straight year.
Unlike their rivals, the Brumbies have kept a pretty settled squad from 2023 and will be out to make a statement in Larkham's second year in charge.
With this in mind we look at the five key talking points for the ACT Brumbies heading into 2024.
1. The next level
As assistant coach Ben Mowen said, good isn’t good enough for the Brumbies.
Coach Stephen Larkham successfully implemented his game plan in 2023 and will spend the off-season trying to get the best out of a side lathered with Wallabies that either missed the World Cup or struggled for game time.
The trick is to get those big wins over the Kiwi sides early to wrap up a home final.
Twice they have headed over the ditch after hard-fought quarter-finals before falling just short to the eventual runners-up
2. Fill the gaps
The Brumbies kept a large majority of their 2023 squad but the departures of Nic White and Pete Samu are big losses for this year.
Ryan Lonergan is a ready-made replacement for White, although has only filled in at quick spurts for the Brumbies. He has started 15 games for the club but never more than two consecutively.
His constant selection as Australia A captain shows his standing in the game, but it’s now time to formally step up as a leader of this team.
As for Samu, the backrower was always a reliable big-game player for the Brumbies, able to cover all three positions.
Tom Hooper fits the mould, although Luke Reimer and Jahrome Brown will be hungry to cement a regular spot in the starting side.
Noah Lolesio will head into 2024 with the necessary confidence to believe he can reclaim his spot in the Wallabies pecking order.
Lolesio finished the year coming off the bench before a stint with French giants Toulon reignited the spark.
Initially signed as a World Cup ‘joker’, the 24-year-old impressed so much that Toulon were begging the Brumbies to keep him around for as long as possible.
The playmaker was thrown into the deep end early in his career but now has the experience to thrive consistently at club level in what shapes as a make-or-break season. First, he needs to cement his spot in the Brumbies side after Jack Debreczeni’s impressive late-season form.
4. Wallabies audition
It's not just players who will be out to impress the national set-up.
By the time the Super Rugby season starts, the Wallabies' new head coach could be decided. If so, Stephen Larkham can firmly set himself up as the next man up.
Larkham’s debut season at the club showed his growth as a coach since returning from Ireland. It builds off the platform left by Dan McKellar, with weapons such as Corey Toole adding another element.
It may be too soon for Larkham to take the national job but a strong season from the Brumbies and Larkham will put him in prime position to either takeover from whoever comes in or potentially step up into the role if they look locally.
5. Locking down the second-row
Second-row reflects the biggest competition for spots for the Brumbies.
It speaks to their level of depth with four Wallabies in the group for 2024.
Nick Frost was one of the best in 2023 for the Wallabies, with Cadeyrn Neville, Darcy Swain and Tom Hooper fighting to join him in the starting side.
Hooper’s versatility will likely see him take over from Samu in the back-row, leaving the two forgotten locks to battle it out.
Both started together in the opening Test of 2022 and can reclaim their spot in the Wallabies set-up with strong seasons.