The NRL draw for the 2021 season has been released, with a return to mid-year State of Origin and six games played in regional NSW headlining the announcement.
After the COVID-impacted 2020, 2021 will see a return to relative normality, with the first of 25 rounds beginning on March 11, the finals commencing on September 10, and the grand final to return to its usual timeslot on the Sunday of the first weekend of October. Magic Round in Brisbane will also resume after a successful first iteration in 2019.
The season-opener between the Storm and Rabbitohs will be the defending premiers’ first game in Melbourne since June this year, and their first in front of home fans since 2019.
“Our Melbourne fans have not seen a game at AAMI Park since 2019. We’ll change that with the opening game of our 2021 season,” NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said.
“The premiers returning home after relocating to Queensland with a blockbuster against South Sydney. It’s by design that both Melbourne and the Warriors, who sacrificed so much, will play at home in Round 1.”
There’s good news in the fixture for the Warriors who, after spending all of this season after the COVID restart in Australia, will return to playing out of Mount Smart Stadium in 2021. Their Round 1 match against the Titans is scheduled for the Auckland venue, however Abdo said if borders aren’t open in time for the season, the side will make Central Coast Stadium their home.
“We know with a clear vision and a common purpose that we can achieve our goals and this schedule sets March 11 as the date that we deliver on the schedule we have promised,” Abdo said.
“People will question why we have included aspects that still require approvals and we are fine with that. People are welcome to question decisions, like they did in the 2020 season.
“All 25 rounds were announced today to ensure fans and clubs have the opportunity to plan their entire season in advance. The current infection rate is zero and borders are opening, we are optimistic about the 2021 season, but equally we will be ready to adapt and adjust our plans should the need arise.
“As we demonstrated in 2020, the safety of the community will be a priority for us.”
After poor TV ratings in this year’s post-season edition, it’s no surprise to see State of Origin return to its traditional mid-year schedule. While the official dates are yet to be confirmed, the timing of bye weeks indicate Games 1 and 3 will be played on June 9 and July 14 respectively, while Game 2 will cap off the return of Representative Round on Sunday, June 27.
If Rep Round returns to the same format it had in 2019, Women’s State of Origin will be played on Friday, June 25. The venues for men’s and women’s series are yet to be confirmed.
As announced yesterday, six games will be taken to regional NSW after only one match in 2020. Bathurst, Wagga Wagga, Tamworth, Mudgee, Dubbo and Coffs Harbour will each host a regular-season fixture.
Other highlights of the fixture include Indigenous Round in Round 12, which will be played across six different cities and towns, the return of rugby league on the Anzac Day weekend, and a grand final rematch between the Panthers and Storm to kick off Round 3.