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NRL draw winners & losers: Pity Parramatta, the super soft Sharks and Brisbane hit the jackpot in Vegas

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13th November, 2023
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The NRL draw has dropped for 2024, with fans immediately studying the schedule to work out the big winners and losers.

While any cynic can tell you that the draw means very little, the truth is that it can massively sway a team’s chances of finishing in the top four, finals or missing out entirely.

Just ask Parramatta. After facing multiple teams off the bye last year, they get it again, with five teams due for a rest before they face the Eels.

They also get three five-day turnarounds, the joint most in the comp, and will play teams who made the finals in 2023 a total of 13 times – joint most as well, with Souths and the Titans – with a horror run to end the year in which they take on the Storm, Warriors, Panthers, Roosters and Broncos back to back.

At the other end of the scale are the Sharks. After facing a much weaker schedule two years running, they are lucky again with just nine games against teams that made the eight, two short turnarounds and getting the Broncos in Origin.

Des Hasler’s Titans will have to hit the ground running with a soft start that sees them challenge only one 2023 Finals team in the first two months – though that will include a showdown with former club Manly in Round 7.

>> CHECK OUT THE FULL NRL 2024 FIXTURE HERE

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It’s a tough ride home with the Gold Coast’s final bye in Round 17 and a nightmare finish that includes trips to Penrith and Newcastle to round out the year. If they’re going to make the post-season, one suspects they’ll need to be in by then.

The Panthers’ attempt at a four-peat will be helped by getting their byes in the heart of Origin, when they have traditionally had multiple players out, and by a tough start that sees them face Melbourne and Brisbane in the first three weeks.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 01: Adam Reynolds of the Broncos reacts after a Panthers try during the 2023 NRL Grand Final match between Penrith Panthers and Brisbane Broncos at Accor Stadium on October 01, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Their main challengers, the Broncos, will feel like they’ve hit the Vegas jackpot. Though their start is hard with trips to Melbourne and Penrith, they get a run of home fixtures in May that includes three in a row either side of the bye, as Manly take their Magiic Round game north, then another one of seven consecutive Queensland games on the run to Finals.

All in all, between the end of Origin and the finals, the Bronx leave their home state just once, to play Newcastle.

Their baby brother from the other side of town must look over in envy. The Dolphins have their season in reverse, with seven games at home from the opening three months, plus trips to the Gold Coast and a derby with the Broncos and the Eels on neutral territory – which has traditionally favoured the Queensland opponent – in Darwin.

That’s the good news. The bad is that once Origin kicks in, Redcliffe get battered. They’ll likely have three top men in for the Maroons, with Tom Gilbert, Thomas Fleger and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow in squads in 2023, but the Phins get no Byes.

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After the rep season, they will contend with away trips to Penrith, Melbourne and Newcastle in the last six weeks as well as a ‘home’ game in Perth versus the Roosters. The air miles will be racking up at Redcliffe, with Perth, Darwin, Bundaberg and Auckland all on the itinerary.

Shane Flanagan’s Dragons will be the first guests at Kayo Stadium in Round 2 as part of a relatively forgiving start that sees them get all the way to Round 5 before St George Illawarra face a finals team from 2023.

They do, however, get a run of tough games prior to their Magic Round bye, with a derby against Cronulla, the Anzac Day game with the Roosters – technically their home match, though in truth on enemy territory at Allianz Stadium – and a visit from South Sydney before the week off.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The Cowboys, who Flanagan faces in his first home game, could be set for a repeat of last year’s late run to the finals. 

They will benefit from six home games in the run in, plus two bye rounds, with their only trips being the Tigers and Bulldogs, two of last year’s cellar dwellers. 

Then again, they will have to relive the Leichhardt Oval trauma of 2023 with another game at the Eighth Wonder on August 1, and the Cowboys were one of the few teams to lose to the Dogs at Accor Stadium, too.

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The Tigers will split between Leichhardt and Campbelltown Stadium in 2024, with coach Benji Marshall enjoying a relatively benign start in the top job.

They will get a chance at Parramatta on Easter Monday as early as Round 4 and a shot at repeating their Bathurst heroics with the Panthers again the guests in Round 7.

The toughest trot will be four away games in late June and July that see Wests face the Roosters, Souths, Warriors and Sharks with a home game against Melbourne sandwiched in between.

There’s a decent chance that Souths will need everything they can get by then. The Bunnies suffered badly due to Origin and enforced away trips in 2023, and will have the same issues this time around.

They can’t play at home until Round 4 due to the availability of Accor Stadium, meaning tough visits to Brisbane and their derby with the Chooks – as well as Vegas – before three home matches into the bye.

Their Indigenous Round clash with Parra is yet to have a venue – likely Allianz Stadium, like last year – and they will again take a match to Gosford. Should Jason Demetriou need to come home with a wet sail, it will require a game at Bluebet Stadium and a final round derby win.

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

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The Chooks again get the better of that split, with the early game at home, as part of a blockbuster start that sees Brisbane in Vegas, a Battle of the Beaches at Brookvale Oval, then Souths, then the Panthers at Moore Park.

Things do soften out after that and, by midyear, they will face the Dogs, Tigers and Dragons at home in back to back weeks before their bye.

Manly’s start is also filled with rivalry games. They’re off to Parra in Round 3 after hosting Easts as part of an all-Sydney start that lasts until Round 6 in Auckland.

Should they need a late charge, Anthony Seibold can point to a schedule that has his men either at home or against lower-ranked opponents from their Round 22 bye onwards.

Curiously, Manly face the Dogs in the last two weeks of the year for the third season running.

Canterbury will hope that their encounters are a little more live than the previous two, when both teams were playing for pride, but any hope of that happening will rest more on how they deal with the start.

Also locked out of Accor, the Dogs face tough trips to Parra and the Shire off the top, before their Belmore game against the Titans.

On the face of it, things could have been a lot worse for Cameron Ciraldo, however. Of last year’s top four, they only face the Warriors twice and will avoid so much as a single five-day turnaround over the year. Again, penny for Parra’s thoughts.

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Newcastle might have a gripe, too. Their reward for finishing strongly in 2023 is a heap more TV-friendly fixtures, with just three of their favoured 4pm Sunday games at McDonald Jones, though they largely avoid long turnaround times.

They begin with a Thursday night clash against Canberra, who have also borne the brunt of the TV schedulers.

The Raiders marketing department face the hardest of sells, with six 6pm kick-offs in the early part of the year and barely any evening matches in the capital – indeed, just one Friday night under lights at all in 2024.

That will be against the Warriors – site of a smash-up in Jarrod Croker’s 300th game last year – and Ricky Stuart will be looking to avoid a repeat. 

Naturally, the Wahs dominate the 6pm Friday timeslot, but will at last get the chance to host a home Anzac Day game, taking on the Titans at 2pm on Thursday 25th April.

Should the Kiwis make the finals again, they will get the last week off as they have the bye. They might well need it, as they play just once at home in the final month, and have a rock solid start, with four of last year’s top eight in the opening month.

They do luck out with the Broncos in Origin, not that it helped much last year – a depleted Brisbane defeated them in Napier.

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That leaves just Melbourne. They will continue their traditional Anzac Day evening game, this time against South Sydney, as part of a difficult opening that sees the Storm play their first four against teams that made the eight and, indeed, the other three of last year’s top four.

It doesn’t get much better, either. They have the Dogs at home in Round 6 – though Canterbury won that game last year – and will face the Broncos, Panthers, Roosters, Souths and Warriors twice each. Ouch.

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