NRL is finally back, with the long-awaited return kicking off this Thursday night. These are my tips for footy’s first week back.
The NRL draw for 2020 has been released, with more regional games, a cross-code double-header, and a slightly rejigged Magic Round headlining the announcement.
Bankwest Stadium will play host to the opening fixture of the season between the Eels and Bulldogs on Thursday, March 12, before Canberra begin their season at home in the Friday 6pm timeslot against the Titans.
The Cowboys will open their 2020 campaign at the new North Queensland Stadium on Friday night against the Broncos, while defending premiers Sydney have a Saturday-night trip to Penrith in Round 1.
However, fans will have to wait until Round 11 to see a grand final rematch between the Roosters and Raiders, when the two sides will face off at Perth’s HBF Park. They’ll then play each other again five rounds later at GIO Stadium.
The NRL has unsurprisingly kept Magic Round after the four-day, single-stadium festival was a considerable success in its first iteration earlier this year. It will take place on the weekend of May 1 next year.
However there is a slight change to the Suncorp Stadium weekend, with the round of matches being played over three days, not four, allowing a Queensland side to play on each day. Both the Broncos and Cowboys have been marked as the away teams for their games that week.
Eight games will be played in regional areas in 2020, Gosford, Tamworth, Wagga Wagga, Bathurst and the Sunshine Coast all hosting fixtures, and the NRL was keen to promote the reduction in five-day turnarounds, although it’s only down by one – to 25 from 26.
Round 2 will see a unique cross-code double-header at Eden Park. The Warriors will host the Raiders on Saturday, March 21 immediately before the Blues and Brumbies meet in a Super Rugby encounter at the same venue. With the NRL fixture kicking off at 3pm (AEST) and the Super Rugby game slated for a 5:35 start, it will give groundstaff little over half an hour to change the field markings between matches.
Speaking after the release of the draw, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said he was proud of the schedule, pointing to some of the challenges once again posed by limited stadium availability.
“It’s a win for our fans and a win for our players while still providing our broadcast partners, who invest so much into our game, with gripping content,” Greenberg stated.
“Five-day turnarounds are down, more big matches will be played during the day and on weekends, and more parts of the country can see our great game live than ever before.
“This year has been our most challenging year. ANZ Stadium goes offline midway through the season, Shark Park is offline all season and Allianz Stadium is offline for the second year in a row, while the SCG has multiple tenants.
“That leaves limited venues and limited dates to make a schedule work.”
As confirmed a few weeks ago, the SCG will host the grand final with ANZ Stadium out of action, October 4 pencilled in as the date for the season decider.