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Heavyweights South Sydney and Parramatta will stare down a slew of top-eight opponents after missing last year’s play-offs while Newcastle’s stunning finals run has doubled the club’s free-to-air exposure in 2024.
The NRL’s draw release on Monday confirmed that the Rabbitohs, Eels and Titans will face more 2023 finalists (13) than any rival teams. At the other end of the scale, Cronulla play top-eight finishers just nine times next season.
Kalyn Ponga and the Knights will enjoy significant added exposure in 2024.Credit: NRL Photos
The Knights have emerged as the big winners when it comes to invaluable small screen time, beginning with a round-one Thursday night clash against Canberra.
As reported by this masthead last week, the NRL reconsidered the scheduling following complaints from broadcaster Nine Entertainment Co, the publisher of this masthead, about the round-one scheduling of two non-Sydney sides in the primetime slot.
But the popularity of the freewheeling Knights, led by superstar Dally M winner Kalyn Ponga, has delivered the club 12 free-to-air appearances in 2024, doubling the six games of last season.
Only perennial heavyweights South Sydney (14 free-to-air games), Penrith, Brisbane and the Roosters (13 free-to-air games) will enjoy more exposure.
Canterbury’s struggles have left them with just six games on free-to-air TV, trailed only by the Warriors (four) and Des Hasler’s Titans (five).
For the second year running, Parramatta have been dealt a peculiar hand around the added byes, playing five teams after they have had a week off.
The Eels began 2023 with three games against teams coming off the bye in the first five weeks, with their sluggish start to the year crucial in what was eventually a 10th-placed finish.
Parramatta have also been given three five-day turnarounds, a high-water mark shared by premiers Penrith, Melbourne, Wests Tigers, the Dolphins and Roosters. The Sea Eagles and Bulldogs are the only sides to avoid a five-day turnaround.
The four teams travelling to Las Vegas in round one for the code’s historic season-opening double-header have been drawn to trade games in round two, with the Broncos hosting South Sydney and Manly taking on the Roosters to ease any disadvantages around the long-haul travel to and from America.
St George Illawarra will miss out on a start at Magic Round, given the bye for the annual Brisbane jaunt, though they will claim the lucrative takings from their annual Anzac Day clash with the Roosters as a home game.
The Warriors also host their first Anzac Day game in Auckland against Des Hasler’s Titans, while Melbourne play South Sydney on April 25.
The NRL has also confirmed State of Origin dates with the women’s series expanded to three games for the first time.
Game one of the women’s Origin will open this year’s Magic Round on May 16 before the entirety of round 11 is played at Suncorp Stadium over the following three days.
The nine-round NRLW campaign will open in late July with a marquee clash between back-to-back premiers Newcastle and the Roosters.
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