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The Benji Marshall era at the Wests Tigers won’t begin until the second week of the competition with the back-to-back wooden-spooners set to be handed the bye in the opening round of the NRL season.
The NRL is putting the finishing touches on the draw in preparation for a release on Monday. This masthead has obtained what is likely to be the round one schedule, beginning with a landmark double-header in Las Vegas.
The opening round of the NRL season has been revealed.Credit: Getty
Penrith will begin their title defence against Melbourne two weeks after a potential World Club Challenge campaign against Super League champions Wigan Warriors. The Panthers are expected to be the main game on Channel Nine on Friday night.
Shane Flanagan’s era at the Dragons will begin with an away trip to Queensland to take on fellow returning coach Des Hasler and his Gold Coast Titans.
The Parramatta Eels will play home to the new-look Canterbury Bulldogs on Saturday evening at CommBank Stadium in what could be Stephen Crichton’s first game for his new club.
The Knights will take on the Raiders in Thursday night footy, with the Warriors to take on the Sharks in the early game on Friday night.
Expected round one schedule
- Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles (March 2 in Las Vegas)
- Broncos v Roosters (March 2 in Las Vegas)
- Knights v Raiders (Thursday, March 7)
- Warriors v Sharks (Friday, March 8)
- Storm v Panthers (Friday, March 8)
- Eels v Bulldogs (Saturday, March 9)
- Titans v Dragons (Saturday, March 9)
- Dolphins v Cowboys (Sunday, March 10)
- Bye: Wests Tigers
The round will close out with the Dolphins hosting the North Queensland Cowboys in an all-Queensland affair at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The round will be split across two weeks with the Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles to open the season in Las Vegas, with the Broncos and Roosters to square off in the second game of the double-header at Allegiant Stadium on March 2 (March 3 in Australia).
The four teams involved in Las Vegas will square off against each other over the opening three rounds of the season to provide consistency and balance to the draw.
The Rabbitohs will play against the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium in round two before taking on arch rivals the Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium in round three. The Sea Eagles will play the Roosters in round two and the Broncos in round three.
Penrith may skip the pre-season challenge in favour of facing Wigan in England.Credit: Getty
The Panthers, meanwhile, are open to missing the pre-season challenge – and forgoing a potential $100,000 in prizemoney – if it makes it easier to travel to England for the World Club Challenge.
The NRL is expected to announce their pre-season challenge draw as early as Friday, but Penrith officials confirmed they were unsure how their early season schedule would look.
Should they play against Wigan on February 24, they are happy to be excluded from the second edition of the pre-season tournament.
“If the World Club Challenge comes to fruition, we’re happy not to play a trial,” Panthers CEO Matt Cameron said.
“We’re working with Wigan, NRL and Super League are in dialogue at the moment about the game, and we’re working on the premise we’ll be heading there.
“Our players who do not travel over will need a gamer but whether that’s an actual trial I’m not sure.”
Las Vegas-bound South Sydney and Manly will play a Sunday afternoon trial on February 11 on the Central Coast, six days before the Bunnies and St George Illawarra meet in the Charity Shield at Kogarah.
Parramatta and Canberra will play in the Charity Shield curtain-raiser. Canterbury host Melbourne on a Thursday night at Belmore in week one of the pre-season challenge. Clubs have been informed the Indigenous All Stars and Maori All Stars fixture will be held on February 16, a Friday night.
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