As the days to NRL 2020 2.0 continue to tick down, the revised draw was finally released yesterday, and while some clubs will be thrilled with their run to October, others will be left scratching their heads.
Clubs like the Parramatta Eels have avoided the rough end of the stick in their quest for glory, while the so far winless Sydney Roosters will need to be better than good if they are going to crack yet another top four and double chance come finals time.
Brisbane Broncos: The toughest of starts
The Broncos might hold a distinct advantage of being one of the six clubs with four competition points to their name, but they had better hit the ground running when things restart if they want to stay there.
While they may get to kick-off with a couple of home Thursday night games, they play the Eels, Roosters and then Manly on the Central Coast over the first three weeks of the returned competition.
The only way that could have been made tougher is if the Storm were thrown in, and while they do have the good fortune of not having to travel to Melbourne at all this season, momentum is going to be hard to come by, so the next three weeks could decide their fate.
Canberra Raiders: A lack of home games after Round 10
Raiders fans have every right to feel a little frustrated by this one. As one of the teams giving up their right to play at home each week, Canberra should have been expecting a long run of home games after Round 10, when the NRL have given a chance of other venues being used.
Of the next seven games where venues have been allocated, the Raiders are being forced to play four at ‘home’ in Campbelltown. That leaves just five home games to be potentially played in Canberra after Round 10.
Five out of 11. They play a higher percentage of home games in Campbelltown during the next seven weeks.
Any Sydney clubs complaining about not being able to use their suburban grounds are just a little bit out of touch.
Canterbury Bulldogs: A fighting chance to build momentum
The Bulldogs thrive off scrappy and dogged defensive work, so really this world should suit them down to the ground. Teams will be out of sync for at least a few weeks, and passion in defending the goal line could be the difference more than once.
That said, their start allows them to take on Manly, St George Illawarra, the Roosters, the Sharks and the Tigers. There are some winnable games there, and if they can find a way to drag Manly and the Roosters down to their level, then they could well surprise a few.
As is the case early in any season, teams will struggle to score points and attack to their best standards, so the Bulldogs could be in some low-scoring games, and if they can start to build some confidence and momentum, then the Titans, Tigers, Warriors and Panthers in the last seven weeks could give them enough wins to move away from the bottom.
Cronulla Sharks: The easiest double-up list
Speaking of teams who like playing backs to the wall footy, the Sharks are right up there, and will be more than pleased with the list of teams they have to play twice.
The Dragons, Titans, Panthers, Cowboys and Warriors.
Penrith and North Queensland could consider themselves a chance at the eight, but Cronulla miss all the big guns twice, and while I tipped them to miss the eight a fortnight ago, that has to change. They will make it. Their fixture is too simple.
Gold Coast Titans: Only one trip to Sydney before Round 10
The Titans may have lost the right to play on the Gold Coast, but with match day travel expected to make life tough for visiting teams, the Titans will be glad to see they only have one trip to Sydney in the next seven weeks as well as one to Townsville.
They play their other five games at Suncorp in either a home or away capacity, and this should allow them to adjust to life quickly.
While not much is expected of the Titans, this season is going to throw up some surprises, and there is a level of talent throughout the roster, so if they can make the most of games against the Tigers, Dragons and Warriors at home in the next seven weeks, they might be able to crawl away from the bottom of the ladder.
Manly Sea Eagles: Will they be ready for finals?
While the Sea Eagles were battle-hardened for the finals in 2019 by a finish to the season that included Canberra, Melbourne and Parramatta in successive weeks, this year’s final four weeks list the Tigers, Bulldogs, Titans and Warriors.
Some years a soft run to the finals is appreciated, and while Manly will certainly be primed under Des Hasler, in a shortened season where resting players won’t be a thing, soft games for a month before the finals aren’t going to be ideal.
It could be said it’ll ensure Manly make the finals, but it’ll be a rude shock when they get to the finals and have to play top teams again.
Melbourne Storm: The perfect draw
It’s not the easiest, but Melbourne don’t want the easiest. Craig Bellamy has never been about that.
He has been about hard work and making statements. So to play Canberra and Souths at home first up and then have both of those teams as well as Manly and the Roosters on their double-up list suits Melbourne down to the ground.
They will look to make a statement against the Raiders, who beat them in the finals last year, and if their form is good, you will have to feel for the Knights, Panthers and Warriors from Round 5 onwards as Melbourne build towards facing the Roosters in Round 8.
When it comes to travel, they also have to leave Melbourne on only three occasions in the next seven weeks, which is a boost.
Newcastle Knights: A run to make the eight
The Knights underperformed badly in 2019 but are sitting on four points to start 2020, and with that advantage they have a margin for error in what is a tough restart to the season.
If they can find a way to pick up enough wins to be in contention, their run to the finals is easy enough.
The last six weeks may include only three home games, but they play the Cowboys, Warriors, Sharks, Roosters, Dragons and Titans.
The Warriors game is listed as away but could well be at home, and so it should be at least four wins out of their last six, and with the Tigers, Cowboys and Warriors all on the double-up list, Newcastle must push to play finals footy.
New Zealand Warriors: Early season form is a must
The Warriors have one of the toughest finishes to the season. Even if they are back playing at home then, the Eels, Sharks, Raiders and Sea Eagles in the final four weeks of footy will be a difficult ask.
The Auckland-based club may not be favoured to play finals footy, but it would be a good news story if they were to make the grade given the sacrifices they have made for the competition.
Given their tough finish to the season, though, they’ll need to make the most of the Dragons, Panthers and Cowboys at the restart and hope they gain something out of not having to travel across the ditch each week thereafter.
North Queensland Cowboys: Five weeks to make something happen
When it comes to coaches hanging by a thread, Paul Green is right up at the top of the list. Luckily for him and his battling Cowboys, they have five games to restart the season that are all winnable.
In fact if they don’t win at least four, it’d be a failure. While they do have two trips to Sydney, they play the Warriors, Sharks and Knights at home, with the Warriors and Tigers on the road.
They should hold a huge advantage at home in these next seven weeks, and the games away from home aren’t against competition heavyweights, so the Cowboys could be a team to watch in the next month.
Parramatta Eels: Handle the start and the sky is the limit
The Broncos in Brisbane, Manly, the Roosters and the Raiders all appear on the Eels fixture in the first five weeks of the returned competition, so those saying they have the ‘easiest’ draw may well be off the mark.
Consistency and momentum are going to be buzzwords but difficult to find, and Parramatta will struggle to find them with their start.
If, however, they can survive those first five weeks and come out of it with a few wins, the sky is the limit, because from that point on their draw is easy.
Manly and Brisbane are their toughest double-up teams, meaning they miss playing the Storm, Roosters and Raiders twice.
Penrith Panthers: No trips out of Sydney until Round 11
One of the constants that keeps coming up is the idea of match day travel and how hard that’ll be to adjust too. Penrith are in the favoured position, though, of potentially never having to do it.
Their first away game out of Sydney comes against the Titans in Round 11, and the NRL have left the door open for normal travel and operations to have resumed by then.
The chance of teams being allowed to stay in hotels might seem slim, but while other teams will be boarding planes on the morning of game day, the Panthers won’t have to do it, and already with two wins to their name, plus the Knights and Warriors in their sights to start the season, they could be four and zero in no time.
South Sydney Rabbitohs: Six weeks to confirm a position
While some teams have mind-numbingly tough runs at points throughout the season, South Sydney have the Roosters and the Storm and then six weeks when they can virtually book their spot in the finals.
A run featuring the Titans, Warriors, Panthers, Bulldogs, Tigers and Knights won’t be striking fear into the heart of a team like South Sydney, so while some teams are in virtual must-win positions in Rounds 3 and 4, they can quite conceivably lose those two games but come out at the end of Round 10 with seven wins on the board.
St George Illawarra Dragons: The nine-week stretch from hell
All in all, the Dragons can’t be too disappointed with their draw. Their double-ups include the Sharks, Titans, Bulldogs, Raiders and Roosters.
They only burn two of their home games during the next seven weeks of neutral grounds, meaning they can play six out of the last 11 at Kogarah or Wollongong, and they get the chance to find some form against the Warriors and Bulldogs first up.
Their run from Round 7 though goes a little bit like this: Roosters (Bankwest), Raiders (Campbelltown), Sea Eagles (Campbelltown), Bulldogs (home), Sharks (away), Rabbitohs (home), Roosters (home), Eels (away), Broncos (away).
That run would make the top teams concerned. It could be one win in eight weeks unless the Red V find rapid improvement. It could also be the end of Paul McGregor.
Sydney Roosters: Making the top four might be impossible
Rabbitohs, Broncos, Dragons, Raiders, Storm. This is the double-up list for the Tricolours.
That is, in a word, hard. Not so much the Dragons, but the other four sides are no easybeats, and when they are already zero and two with likely consistency issues to come thanks to a new halves combination, it’s going to be tough.
The mark to make the top four is likely to be about 13 wins. That would mean they need to win 13 out of 18 games. It goes without saying that to make the top four they are going to need to beat some of those teams twice to make the top four.
Easier said than done, and the pressure will be applied quickly if they lose games when the season resumes.
Wests Tigers: Must be perfect early
Let’s finish with some controversy. I don’t see a single win for the Tigers in the final six weeks.
Roosters, Panthers, Sea Eagles, Rabbitohs, Storm and Eels. That is their run to close the season.
Even if they were to snag one or two, it means if they would need to win a minimum of eight games in the next 11 weeks. If they do that, then the above equation changes of course, because form would warrant that they keep winning.
But making the finals, on the surface, seems to be just about off the table for the Tigers.
What do you make of your teams draw?