The NRL is scrambling to sort out its 2024 draw leading into the schedule being officially released next week with Nine fuming over a low-profile Newcastle vs Canberra match being chosen to launch the season on home soil.
History will be made when the premiership kicks off in Las Vegas on March 2 when the Rabbitohs play Manly and the Broncos clash with the Roosters.
The NRL is already facing a backlash with the first match of the season at the Vegas double-header not being broadcast on free-to-air TV.
Now they are considering whether to make a late change to the rest of the schedule for Round 1 after selecting the Knights’ tussle with the Raiders as the free-to-air game for Nine on the following Thursday of the split round.
Complicating matters is that Newcastle’s home ground is due to host a motocross event on the weekend so the Knights are unable to switch their match.
High-profile traditional rivals Canterbury and Parramatta are due to play on Sunday and the Storm are hosting Penrith in what would be a bigger ratings drawcard for Nine than a Knights-Raiders contest.
But there is a Wanderers A-League match at CommBank Stadium on Friday night and they don’t want the NRL on the field 24 hours before their game. Accor Stadium is out of action due to concerts.
As it stands, the Warriors will host Cronulla in the first Friday match, followed by Melbourne and Penrith at AAMI Park.
The Saturday schedule is the Eels-Dogs fixture and a battle of two new coaches when Shane Flanagan takes St George Illawarra to the Gold Coast to face Des Hasler’s Titans.
Sunday’s Round 1 affair is an all-Queensland stoush between the Dolphins and Cowboys, likely to be at Suncorp Stadium, with the Wests Tigers getting the bye first up.
The four teams in the Vegas venture will not play until the following week and are due to meet each other in the first three weeks of the draw so they are not disadvantaged by playing teams that have not had a travel burden early in the season.
Souths are away to Brisbane in Round 2 with their blockbuster against the Roosters at Allianz Stadium in Round 3. Manly meet the Roosters in their second match before taking on the Broncos.
Brisbane will travel to Penrith in Round 3 for their Grand Final rematch while the Panthers are expected to take on Wigan in the World Club Challenge in late February.
Penrith could skip the NRL’s pre-season campaign if the match is held in the UK.
According to a leaked document published by the Sydney Morning Herald, the All-Stars game kicks off the pre-season on February 16 with two rounds of trials pencilled in.
Round 1 draw … for now
Souths vs Manly (March 2 in Las Vegas)
Brisbane vs Roosters (March 2 in Las Vegas)
Newcastle vs Canberra
Warriors vs Cronulla
Melbourne vs Penrith
Parramatta vs Canterbury
Gold Coast v St George Illawarra
Dolphins v North Queensland
Wests Tigers – bye
Week 1 (February 15-18)
Dogs v Storm at Belmore
Sharks v Knights at Central Coast Stadium
Manly v Roosters at Central Coast Stadium
Warriors v Tigers at TBC
Broncos v Cowboys at Mackay
Dragons v Rabbitohs at Kogarah
Eels v Raiders at Kogarah
Dolphins v Titans at Sunshine Coast
Week 2 (February 22-25)
Sharks v Bulldogs at Cronulla
Roosters v Rabbitohs at Cronulla
Dragons v Tigers in Mudgee
Manly v Broncos in Manly
Titans v Eels in Ipswich
Storm v Knights in Fiji
Raiders v Cowboys in Queanbeyan