After numerous delays and a couple of false starts, the 2015 NRL Premiership draw has finally been revealed – and there’s plenty to get excited about. As was the case in 2013-14, the full schedule has been locked in until Round 20. It’s impossible to keep everyone happy, but several innovations are sure to have rugby league fans licking their lips ahead of the new season, which is less than three months away.
Here are the key features and changes for next year’s competition:
For the first time since 2003, the traditional derby between South Sydney and the Sydney Roosters will not take place in Round 1. The archrivals will instead clash in Round 2, while Brisbane will host the Rabbitohs at Suncorp Stadium in the 2015 season opener, set down for Thursday night, March 5.
In other juicy Round 1 clashes, Parramatta and Manly face off on Friday night; the first Saturday of the season sees Knights-Warriors, Titans-Tigers and Cowboys-Roosters encounters; the Panthers and Bulldogs will play the historic Sunday afternoon match televised live on Channel Nine, followed by a Sunday night Sharks-Raiders showdown; and the Dragons host the Storm to kick off Monday night football.
The season opener will be the only Thursday night game until they return for the last four rounds of the premiership.
Saturday afternoon footy is here for another season at least, with nine games in the first 20 rounds scheduled for a 3pm kickoff and a further three getting underway at 5pm in New Zealand, to be beamed into Australia at 3pm AEST.
Channel Nine will televise its Sunday game live each and every week in a huge win for NRL fans, including the Warriors-Broncos game in Round 4, which will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Warriors’ maiden premiership match and will screen at 12pm AEDT – or 11am in Brisbane!
The traditional Good Friday clash between Souths and Canterbury will continue next season, doubling as a grand final rematch in front of an expected 60,000 crowd at ANZ Stadium. Parramatta and Wests Tigers will play on Easter Monday at the same venue, aiming to match the 50,000-strong crowd that attended the corresponding game this year.
The Storm-Warriors encounter in Melbourne – usually played on Anzac Day – will take place at AAMI Park on Easter Monday, while the Panthers and Cowboys complete an unprecedented trifecta of Easter Monday games.
Anzac Day marathon
Anzac Day, which falls on a Saturday next year, will feature five back-to-back games to mark 100 years since the Anzac landings at Gallipoli. The Warriors and Titans kick off proceedings in Auckland (12pm AEST), followed by the Knights and Cowboys in Newcastle, the Roosters and Dragons traditional Anzac Day showdown at Allianz, bitter rivals Storm and Sea Eagles in Melbourne, and wrapping up with the Broncos and Eels in Brisbane in an 8pm kick-off.
Venues and matches are yet to be confirmed for the much-maligned Representative Round, but it will take place on the weekend of May 1-3, the weekend following the Anzac Day extravaganza.
State of Origin
Sydney will host the Origin series opener on May 27, the second match is in Melbourne on June 17 and the third encounter will be in Brisbane on July 8.
Melbourne’s ‘Festival of Football’
The second State of Origin match will take place at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and the NRL has taken the opportunity to stage a ‘Festival of Football’ around that time, bookending the interstate blockbuster with Storm games at AAMI Park against Parramatta and Brisbane. The Storm will take on the Eels (with Origin players absent) on Monday night, two days before the Origin, before the weary Storm and Broncos rep stars back up in the Victorian capital on the Sunday.
The Origin drain
Pre-Origin rounds will feature four games instead of five in an attempt to alleviate the strain on clubs during the troublesome rep period. Of course, that just means more stars backing up in the days following the gruelling Queensland-NSW clashes, with six instead of seven games scheduled for post-Origin rounds following the first two matches. It’s unclear whether the change will have the desired effect – it could, in fact, increase the workload for the game’s elite players – but at least the NRL is trying something.
Mark it down in your calendar (unless you’re a Sharks, Raiders, Dragons or Titans fan) – the grand final will take place on Sunday, October 4th at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium.
View the complete 2015 NRL Draw here