A comprehensive breakdown of how the 2015 NRL draw affects each of the 16 teams and the make-or-break moments to look forward to next year.
There's no reason to suggest the Broncos won't be a massive drawcard in 2015, which is probably why their Friday night dominance has remained. The Broncos will play 11 of their first 18 games on Friday night, seven of which are at home at Suncorp Stadium. Add in the Thursday night season-opener against the Rabbitohs and a Monday night clash with the Knights in Round 11 and that's 15 weekends off in the first 20 weeks.
• The Monday night game in Newcastle in Round 11 is the only one where the Broncos will be without their Origin stars. Where the Origin load will tell though is in players being able to back up with games scheduled against the Raiders, Storm and Bulldogs days after Origin matches, all of which are on the road.
• The Broncos round out an extraordinary day of footy on Anzac Day, playing the Eels at Suncorp Stadium at 8pm in the last of five fixtures scheduled.
• If Bennett is to return the club to its glory days he'll have to earn it the hard way with Brisbane scheduled to play the Rabbitohs, Roosters, Sea Eagles, Cowboys and Storm twice each in 2015. All told the Broncos have 14 games against teams who qualified for the top eight in 2014, seven of which are against the teams who finished in the top four.
• There's no such thing as an easy game nowadays but the Broncos will have to find a way to start and finish strong. They play the Rabbitohs (H), Sharks (A), Cowboys (H) and Warriors (A) in the opening month and then face a run to the finals of Dragons (H), Roosters (A), Rabbitohs (A) and Storm (H).
• Expect Suncorp Stadium to be bursting at the seams for the season opener against South Sydney on March 5, the Round 3 clash with the Cowboys, the Roosters in Round 6 and the Round 26 showdown with the Storm.
• There are plenty of positives to come out of the Raiders draw especially when it comes to the Green Machine's fixtures during State of Origin. With Josh Papalii likely to be Canberra's lone Origin prospect, Canberra will face a Bulldogs team (without their stars) in Round 11 before a game against a Broncos outfit with a handful of battered and bruised bodies in the aftermath of Game One. A game against Newcastle separates them from their first bye of the season after which they will go up against the Cowboys after Origin II. They also won't have to worry about missing anyone before Origin III thanks to their second bye.
• They may have to wait until Round 14 for their first bye but the Raiders do have a good spread of home games with six in both halves of their season. Bar one lone Friday night game in Round 18 against Newcastle, 17 of Canberra's first 18 fixtures will be on the weekend (eight Saturdays, nine Sundays).
• Something for Raiders fans to take with a grain of salt though is a period between rounds 4 and 8 where they have four games away from the nation's capital in the space of five weeks. Their opponents for this block of fixtures include the Roosters, Sea Eagles, Melbourne and South Sydney but it will be the only time they'll play the Roosters, Storm and Rabbitohs over the course of 2015.
• If it's true that Raiders fans really do love their Sunday afternoon footy, they'll get a wonderful chance to prove it in 2015. Canberra feature in seven Sunday games with kick-offs ranging between 2pm, 3pm and 4pm as well as four Saturday afternoon games kicking off at 3pm. The electricity bill at GIO Stadium should be well down on last year.
• There are some cracking games in the nation's capital early in the year as the Raiders host the Warriors (Round 2), Dragons (Round 3) and Storm (Round 6).
• Almost nothing written after this sentence matters, because the Bulldogs are returning home to Belmore in Round 20. Everything else is gravy.
• Three of their first four games of the season are against their western Sydney counterparts – if the neighbours want a piece of their tall-walking counterparts, they can get them in the opening month.
• Then come the blockbusters: a Grand Final matinee re-match against the Rabbitohs on Good Friday in Round 5, and then another public holiday masquerade for marquee signing Brett Morris against his former St George Illawarra teammates on the Monday of Queen's Birthday long weekend in Round 13.
• But nothing will match the anticipation building towards the first NRL match at Belmore in 16 years. Not since they pipped Melbourne on August 15, 1998 will locals have strolled to their historic base. And on a Sunday afternoon in Round 20, the gates will once again be opened for old mate Michael Ennis and his band of Sharks to join the party.
• Channel Nine will broadcast the emotional return, one of 13 Bulldogs games – including their opening eight of the season – Ray Warren and friends will deliver over the first 20 rounds. Only the Broncos get greater free airtime than the 'Dogs.
• The team also don't leave Sydney until Round 9 and can go on a major tear heading into September with a final month that includes three opponents that didn't play finals footy last season. On the downside, they could have up to seven players on Origin duty during games against Canberra (Round 11) and Gold Coast (Round 13).
• A venue has also yet to be decided for home games against Manly (Round 7) and Melbourne (Round 16).
• The Sharks are going to have to rack up as many wins as they can before a hectic run of away games impacts their season. Between rounds 15 and 21 – smack bang in the middle of the Origin period – the Sharks have only one home game at Remondis Stadium. Trips to Newcastle, Townsville, Brookvale (though Origin players will be missing), Canberra, Belmore and New Zealand will be met with one home game in Round 18 – a local derby against the Dragons.
• With a long run of away games in the middle of the season, the Sharks will be spending plenty of time in Cronulla at either end of the year. Cronulla will kick off their season with five games out of their first seven at home. They will then finish off the year with a month's worth of home games bar one last trip, to Parramatta, in Round 25. This string of home fixtures though includes games against Melbourne, Manly and North Queensland – all top eight teams in 2014.
• While their draw shapes as one of the toughest in the NRL in 2015, in accordance to the 2014 standings, Cronulla will seek solace in the fact they only have to face last year's top teams in the Rabbitohs, Panthers and the Bulldogs as well as a resurgent Brisbane outfit once each.
• Like the Raiders, Sharks fans have been handed a plethora of Sunday afternoon games with six live games on Channel Nine in the first 20 weeks, although only two are at home (Roosters, Dragons). The Sharks also have two Friday night games in the first six weeks against the Broncos (Round 2) and Knights (Round 6).
Gold Coast Titans
• Unlike their northern neighbours, Titans players can expect to work a lot of weekends in 2015. Fifteen of their first 18 games will be played on either Saturday or Sunday with three Friday night games rounding out their draw. Having figured in six Monday night games in 2014, through the first 20 rounds of 2015 the Titans have zero.
• If Titans fans want to watch their team every week an investment in an NRL Digital Pass may be wise; there are only four free-to-air appearances in the first 20 weeks.
• Their home record will want to have improved by the time the middle of the season rolls around. Between rounds 14-18 the Titans host the Bulldogs, Warriors and Manly with a trip to Sydney to play the Roosters squeezed in there also. Coming in the middle of the Origin period, it could be a telling part of their season.
• In terms of the teams the Titans play twice, the only top-eight finishers from 2014 who feature two times apiece are the Broncos, Bulldogs and Panthers. The other teams that the Titans play both home and away are the Wests Tigers, Knights, Sharks, Eels, Warriors and Raiders.
• Incumbent Origin representatives Nate Myles, Greg Bird and Dave Taylor will only miss a home game against the Bulldogs in Round 14 should they earn selection for their respective states with byes scheduled for the weekends prior to Origin I and III. Backing up will be the test with games against the Rabbitohs, Warriors and Manly (all at home) following Origin games.
• The Titans return to the NSW Central West when they face the Panthers in Bathurst in Round 2, no doubt with fond memories of their last visit to the region in 2013 when they defeated the Eels 42-4 in Mudgee, the club's greatest win to date.
• The Cbus Super Stadium highlights for 2015 include the Friday night clash with the Broncos on Good Friday (Round 5), a 3pm Saturday meeting with the Rabbitohs in Round 12, the Warriors in Round 15 and the Eels in Round 21.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
• It starts off decent enough with two home games in the opening three, with the other being an emotionally-charged bout with ex-teammate Anthony Watmough and the Eels at Parramatta for season kick-off.
• After the first three weeks there is only one game at Brookie in the five weeks following, a testing run that involves three straight away games against the Panthers, Bulldogs (venue TBC) and then the Storm.
• A two-game home stay against Newcastle and Penrith (again) follows, before another difficult six-week period cutting into Origin that begins with back-to-back trips to Townsville and Brisbane sandwiched by their two byes, a lone home game against the Tigers before taking on the Rabbitohs. They'll only lose Queensland playmaker Daly Cherry-Evans for the one game against the Sharks the game after that in Round 17.
• All in all it's a challenging draw – they play six of last season's top eight teams twice – but if they can get to Round 20 still in the top half of the ladder, then the four home games they have in their final six against the Broncos, Rabbitohs, Eels and Roosters will be a huge opportunity to secure a top four finish.
• There are some massive occasions both home and away for the Sea Eagles with the Anzac Day trip to Melbourne and a Sunday afternoon showdown at Brookvale against the Knights in Round 9. A visit by the Bunnies to Brookie in Round 22 will also be a bell-ringer.
• The Storm's byes in rounds 11 and 17 are two of very few reprieves they have in and around the State of Origin period where they will presumably lose their big three in Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater. From rounds 7 to 16 Melbourne have their two byes but will also have to face the Roosters twice, the Eels twice (once without Origin players), Manly, Rabbitohs, Panthers at Penrith, Broncos (after Origin III) and the Bulldogs, putting extra emphasis on early season wins.
• These early season wins may be hard to come by though with captain Cameron Smith expected to miss the first few games having undergone ankle surgery. On top of that, the draw adds insult to injury with Melbourne pencilled in to start 2015 with three of their first four games away from AAMI Park, with trips to Kogarah, Manly and Townsville. Six Monday night games in the first 20 rounds shall be an interesting prospect for Storm fans to deal with, although the 5pm Easter Monday clash with the Warriors should be a ripper.
• Although they have been handed one of the toughest draws in 2015, Melbourne fans will find solace in the fact their team finishes off 2015 with five home games in the final eight rounds. Trips to Leichardt, Cronulla and Brisbane are the only games preventing the Storm from staying in Victoria. Their final five games of the regular season will see them face all three Queensland-based teams, Newcastle and Cronulla – not a bad draw for one of the competition heavyweights.
• Expect AAMI Park to be pumping when the Storm host the Warriors on Easter Monday, arch rivals Manly at 6pm on Anzac Day and the Sunday afternoon clash with the Broncos in Round 15.
• Reinstated coach Rick Stone has been handed a wonderful opportunity to start his second tenure well with eight of Newcastle's first 13 games at Hunter Stadium. Essentially it means the Knights have to make the most of the early half of the year, especially when it comes to the block of games between rounds 3 and 7 with winnable games coming in the form of trips to the Gold Coast and Cronulla as well as home fixtures against Penrith, St George Illawarra and Parramatta.
• With their early positives though come difficulties in the back half of the season, with Newcastle only receiving four home games in the final 11 fixtures. Compounding their challenging away schedule is that Newcastle will have four extremely tough opponents to round out their final five rounds against the Roosters, Bulldogs and Panthers (who all finished in the top four in 2014) and Melbourne.
• The Knights only have to play the Roosters, Sea Eagles, Rabbitohs, Bulldogs and Melbourne once apiece yet play Canberra twice and the Sharks during Origin, which also involves byes in the weeks before Origin II and III and a game against an inevitably depleted Brisbane side before Origin I.
• With a 2pm kick-off against Johnathan Thurston and the Cowboys on Anzac Day, expect that Round 8 game to be among the biggest at Hunter Stadium in 2015. A 4.30pm Saturday kick-off in Round 1 against the Warriors should also draw a big crowd.
• It's a family-friendly draw for the Novocastrians with only two home games in the first 20 weeks kicking off after 6pm; a Saturday night game against the Dragons in Round 5 and a Monday night meeting with the Broncos in Round 11.
North Queensland Cowboys
• The Cowboys have got six Monday night games in the first 20 weeks, the equal most of any team (the Storm also have six). Between rounds 4-6 they play on Monday night three weeks in succession but only two of their six Monday evening assignments are at home.
• Besides two Friday night games against arch rivals the Broncos, all of the remaining 10 Cowboys games will be played on Saturdays, two of which are afternoon games against the Knights (in Newcastle on Anzac Day) and Raiders (in Canberra).
• Although they have to face the Roosters, Knights, Broncos and Storm in the opening month, three of the Cowboys' first four games – and six of their first 10 – are at home, giving them an excellent opportunity to get their campaign off to a flyer.
• The crucial Origin period features away games against the Wests Tigers and Dragons minus their Origin stars and assignments against the Sea Eagles and Raiders in the days following Origin I and II. A bye the week after Origin III may be perfectly timed for coach Paul Green to give his best players a much needed break before the run to the finals.
• If you're a Cowboys fan without Foxtel invest in the NRL Digital Pass in season 2015; only two of your team's first 20 games will feature on Channel Nine – the two blockbusters against the Broncos.
• The big games at 1300SMILES Stadium next year are the Roosters in Round 1, Storm in Round 4, Broncos in Round 10 and the Rabbitohs in Round 23.
• Nine teams finished above Parramatta in 2014; in 2015, the Eels will play seven of them twice. No other team has copped a tougher schedule than Arthur's boys, who are unlucky enough to have two dates booked with the Sea Eagles, Bulldogs, Warriors, Rabbitohs, Storm, Panthers and Cowboys.
• They'll have no time to wind up the shoulders, either. Their opening month kicks off against Manly and ends with a couple of almighty tests against last year's grand finalists in Canterbury Bankstown and South Sydney – three of the five games they get on Channel Nine over the first 20 rounds.
• That season-opener against Anthony Watmough's old mates will be one not to miss. And nor should you be anywhere else on Easter Monday than the ANZ blockbuster against the Wests Tigers – one of three big home games taken to the Olympic venue (Dragons in Round 16 and Bulldogs in Round 19). The local derby against the Panthers in Round 22 will be played at the Eels' home away from home, Darwin.
• The Origin period is where the Eels catch a break. While they could be without the services of Will Hopoate and Watmough for three games, opponents South Sydney (Round 11), Melbourne (Round 14) and Wests Tigers (Round 17) will also be without some of their best players.
• If the Eels can secure a finals berth they will have the opportunity to take some winning momentum into September with games against Cronulla and Canberra at Pirtek Stadium in the final two weeks of the season.
• After two favourable draws in the past couple of years, the league's biggest improvers will have a far more difficult job reaching the heights of 2014. The Panthers kick off the new year hosting the side that ended their premiership run in the Bulldogs, one of two games against the 2014 grand finalists and six altogether broadcast on Channel Nine.
• Home-and-away games against top four elitists South Sydney, the Roosters and Manly also await a team that will now have a big target on their backs following their recent success.
• An early trip to Bathurst for a 'home' game against the Titans comes up in Round 2 but they won't return home to Sportingbet until they host the Cowboys in Round 5 as part of three games across the league on an Easter Monday rugby league smorgasbord.
• The schedule does lighten up around Origin time, when their two byes sit on Origin duty weekends before they meet a Rabbitohs side minus Greg Inglis et al in Round 17. Of course, the Panthers could be minus Matt Moylan and Josh Mansour if they earn Blues call-ups.
• If Ivan Cleary can negotiate his team through a make-or-break month after Origin – a test that includes games against the Roosters, Manly and a re-match against a full-strength Rabbitohs side – then they'll eye off a run home against the Eels (A), Warriors (H), Dragons (A), Raiders (A) and Knights (H).
• The Panthers will be one of the most widely travelled teams in 2015 with games in Bathurst, Newcastle, Canberra, Gold Coast, Darwin, Brisbane, Melbourne and Wollongong.
St George Illawarra Dragons
• The Dragons' 2015 draw is overall fairly balanced. Apart from having their two byes within the first three bye rounds (rounds 11 and 14) and having to play five Monday night games in the first 20 weeks, the Red V's draw levels out in almost every other sense. From Round 15 to Round 22 the Dragons will alternate between home and away games weekly, giving them a fair shot at building momentum leading into the finals. Their run home isn't overly difficult either with trips to New Zealand and Brisbane balanced out with fixtures against Penrith, Gold Coast and the Wests Tigers.
• While the Dragons are expected to be missing Josh Dugan and Trent Merrin throughout the Origin period, Red V fans should be happy with their schedule come State of Origin time. St George Illawarra's byes cover the games before Origin I and II meaning they only play before Game Three without their stars against a similarly depleted Cowboys team. The Dragons' Origin period will also see them face the Sharks twice, Canberra and Parramatta with games against the Bulldogs and Roosters proving most difficult.
• The period between rounds 4 and 9 will prove to be the Dragons' make or break segment of the year. This block of six games includes home fixtures against heavyweight clubs in the Sea Eagles, Bulldogs and Broncos as well as tough trips to face the Knights, Roosters and defending premiers South Sydney.
• For the first time since Round 12, 2007, the Broncos are coming to Kogarah, travelling to Sydney to face the Dragons in Round 7. Besides Jubilee Oval and WIN Stadium the Dragons will play home games at ANZ Stadium, Allianz Stadium and the Sydney Cricket Ground.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
• If the Bunnies are to go back-to-back they'll get to do so largely from the comforts of their own home. Four of their first six games are at ANZ Stadium and they only leave Sydney once between Round 14 and the end of the regular season – a Round 23 trip to take on the Cowboys in Townsville.
• The venue for the Round 8 clash with the Raiders is still listed as 'to be confirmed' but with an ongoing contractual agreement to play one game a year in Cairns that looks the likely venue where they will meet the 'Green Machine'. The Rabbitohs will also play the Warriors in Perth (Round 13) for the third successive year.
• The standout feature of the Rabbitohs' draw is how evenly spread they are across days and television broadcasters. After opening the season on a Thursday night, in the first 20 weeks the defending premiers feature in six Friday night games, five Saturday games, three Sundays and three Mondays. As for TV, they are scheduled to appear on Channel Nine 12 times and Fox Sports eight times.
• During the Origin period Souths fans may have cause to ask, 'Where did 'GI' go?' The Rabbitohs play the Eels (H), Wests Tigers (A) and Panthers (A) minus any Origin representatives but have byes in the weekends following Game Two and Three.
• The Rabbitohs play six of this year's semi-finalists twice in 2015; Broncos, Roosters, Bulldogs, Cowboys, Sea Eagles and Panthers (who they play twice in the space of five weeks). The other double-ups are the Tigers, Eels and Dragons.
• If the Rabbitohs take any momentum into the 2015 Finals Series they will do so on the back of some very tough wins. In the last five games of the regular season the Bunnies face Manly, North Queensland, Canterbury, Brisbane and the Roosters.
• The blockbuster games at ANZ Stadium for the Rabbitohs will be Round 2 against the Roosters, a Good Friday away game against 2014 Grand Final opponents the Bulldogs, the Friday night clash with the Sea Eagles in Round 16 and the return meeting against the Bulldogs in Round 24.
• The Roosters' toughest string of fixtures comes at either end of the season with two blocks of three games materialising into litmus tests to see where they are at initially and then how they are tracking with the finals imminent. In the first three rounds of 2015 the Roosters face all three of their opponents from the 2014 Finals Series in the Cowboys, Rabbitohs and Panthers. In the same vein, their final three fixtures will see them come up against Brisbane, Manly and South Sydney.
• While the outer layers of their draw are set to be difficult, the fillings of the tricolours season looks slightly more friendly, especially when State of Origin comes around. With byes scheduled prior to Origin I and III, unless James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce earn a NSW recall, Aidan Guerra and Boyd Cordner are likely to be the only stars missing from their Round 14 clash with the Warriors in Auckland. Elsewhere through the Origin period the Roosters meet Melbourne (after Origin I), Cronulla, the Dragons and Gold Coast in between. While a streak of three away games sits in this period, the Roosters should have enough manpower to come through that time of year relatively unscathed.
• The Roosters have a happy away schedule with trips to Townsville (Round 1), Brisbane (Round 6), Melbourne (Round 9), New Zealand (Round 14) and Newcastle (Round 22) the only five times they'll travel out of Sydney over the course of the regular season. They also have an equal spread of games with the club pencilled into play four Fridays, four Saturdays, six Sundays and four Mondays in the first 20 rounds.
• The Roosters play the Dragons twice at Allianz Stadium in 2015 with the 4pm clash on Anzac Day the centrepiece of a 10-hour NRL extravaganza. Other must-see clashes are the Friday night meeting with the Tigers (Round 8), a Sunday afternoon game against the Warriors in Round 19 and the final round thriller against the Rabbitohs.
• If there was ever a season where the Warriors should take advantage of the system, it's in 2015. Seven teams finished below the NRL's frequent flyers last season, and they play six of them both home and away. Meanwhile they meet just five of the top eight combatants from 2014 on the one occasion.
• Warriors fans in Australia will need an NRL Digital Pass or Foxtel subscription with just the one Channel Nine game slated for the first 20 weeks, the 20th anniversary clash with Brisbane in Round 4 on Sunday, March 29. There is the long-haul flight to Perth to play the Rabbitohs for the third year in succession in Round 13 which will be played on Saturday evening, the day of the week that will host 13 of the Warriors' first 18 games of the season.
• And then there's this quirky point: The Warriors don't play in Sydney until Round 9. Other than trips to Perth (Round 13) and the Gold Coast (Round 15) their remaining four road trips are all to the harbour city.
• There is an opportunity to make some headway up the ladder between rounds 8-12 with games against last season's stragglers in the Titans, Sharks, Eels and Knights. They get a shot at an Origin-depleted Roosters side in Round 14 – one of six home games in the following eight weeks. With one game at home in the last month, that's the time they need to bank some premiership points.
• It seems Channel Nine have bought into the hype of Wests Tigers' prodigious school of kids, placing them under the spotlight 11 times over the first 20 rounds of the new season – including seven of eight games between rounds 8-16. Only the sponsors of the Broncos and Bulldogs get more free-to-air exposure prior to August.
• Blue wintry skies will hopefully welcome the Leichhardt faithful for their two scheduled Sunday games against the Raiders (Round 7) and Panthers (Round 16). There are two more at that suburban ground, four at Campbelltown, while the club's remaining four home games will be at Olympic Park – including an Easter Monday blockbuster against the Eels in Round 5.
• Make yourselves comfortable at the Olympic venue – all up the joint venture club plays eight games there in 2015.
• The Tigers do have a relatively easy schedule, twice facing all the teams that finished ninth to 15th last season (excluding themselves, of course) and only drawing top eight sides the Cowboys, Sea Eagles, Panthers, Broncos and Storm once apiece.
• The Origin period, however, poses significant challenges as they will be without star duo Robbie Farah and Aaron Woods for the maximum three games against the similarly depleted Cowboys (Round 11), Rabbitohs (Round 14) and Eels (Round 17).
• If they can survive a crucial seven-game period between rounds 14-21 which includes clashes against Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles, Panthers, Broncos, Roosters and Storm, then they can finish with this five-game bang: Raiders (A), Knights (H), Sharks (A), Warriors (H) and Dragons (A).
This article first appeared on NRL.com