Parramatta have been delivered a dream draw while the Sydney Roosters’ bid to pull off an NRL three-peat has been made even harder by the revised match schedule.
The NRL released the new draw for the final 16 rounds on Thursday, with the Eels to avoid facing Melbourne, the Roosters and Canberra twice.
Along with the added advantage of being able to play at home ground Bankwest Stadium, it means Parramatta do not have two clashes with any of last year’s grand finalists or the minor premiers.
Instead, they have double dates with Brisbane, Manly, Canterbury, Penrith and the Wests Tigers after already winning their first two games before the season was halted.
Cronulla are another team to benefit, avoiding meeting the Storm, Canberra, Roosters, Eels, Rabbitohs, Broncos and Manly twice in the round-robin.
Meanwhile the Roosters’ task has become much harder, having already lost their first two matches.
The Tri-colours play South Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, St George Illawarra and Brisbane twice in their bid to become the first team win three straight titles in more than 35 years.
“Everyone has fought so hard to get the game back on the field,” NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said.
“There are new fixtures and new venues, but when the players take the field, the desire to win will be that much higher given the sacrifices made to this point.
“The schedule of 18 uninterrupted weeks of football combined with the new rules to make the game faster, will deliver the heart-pounding entertainment fans expect.”
The Roosters’ traditional Anzac Day match against the Dragons has been moved to August 6, to commemorate the anniversary of the battle of Lone Pine.
Their grand final rematch with Canberra will kick off round 10 in a Thursday night game.
Other key features of the draw include the State of Origin series being played on three straight Wednesdays – November 4, 11 and 18.
The second game has the potential to clash with a cricket Twenty20 World Cup semi-final at the SCG featuring Australia, if that tournament goes ahead.
The women’s Origin match will be played on Friday, November 13, with venues still to be announced for all representative matches.
Venues for all NRL matches have only been determined to the end of round nine, with a possible return to a home-and-away season after that dependent on a review of biosecurity measures.
Thursday, May 28
Brisbane Broncos vs Parramatta Eels, 7:50pm, Suncorp Stadium
Friday, May 29
North Queensland Cowboys vs Gold Coast Titans, 6pm, QCB Stadium
Sydney Roosters vs South Sydney Rabbitohs, 7:55pm, BankWest Stadium
Saturday, May 30
Warriors vs St George Illawarra Dragons, 3pm, Central Coast Stadium
Cronulla Sharks vs Wests Tigers, 5:30pm, BankWest Stadium
Melbourne Storm vs Canberra Raiders, 7:35pm, AAMI Park
Sunday, May 31
Penrith Panthers vs Newcastle Knights, 4:05pm, Campbelltown Stadium
Manly Sea Eagles vs Canterbury Bulldogs, 6:30pm, Campbelltown Stadium