The 2012 Telstra Premiership will kick off in Newcastle on Thursday March 1 with Wayne Bennett against his former club St George Illawarra, a Grand Final replay at Eden Park, and blockbuster games across Sydney, Canberra and Townsville.

The draw features a breathtaking spread of matches across every mainland capital city for the first time in the game’s history.

Marquee games are spread throughout every week of the competition showcasing Rugby League’s growing strength in New Zealand, Queensland and Victoria and emphatically underlining the strength of the Sydney clubs 

Over 31 weeks of the 2012 Telstra Premiership, Sydney will host more than 90 matches and the innovative design of the draw ensures a spread of local derbies and key rivalries at every turn.

Sixteen Sydney matches were given Category 1 status to ensure the most exciting spread of games with a further 60 classified as Category 2.

“This has been a very different draw process and one that ensures the best opportunity for clubs to promote their marquee games,” NRL Director of Football Operations Mr Nathan McGuirk said today.

“Through the Club Season Structure Committee (which includes Brisbane, Wests Tigers, St George Illawarra, Canterbury), broadcasters and our Marketing and Football Operations departments we have ensured a spread of games that allows clubs to maximise crowds and promotional opportunities.

“The spread of local derbies and key games in Sydney stands out but so too do the match-ups in Queensland, Melbourne, Newcastle, New Zealand, Canberra and Newcastle.

“We’ve been able to accommodate clubs taking games to every capital city on the mainland and even a trial game between the Storm and the Broncos in Tasmania.

“At the same time we have introduced key changes to the structure of the draw that provide for the introduction of a Representative Weekend and a Good Friday afternoon headline match.

Among the many features and innovations are:

- An NRL-free representative weekend (April 20-22) featuring the Australia v NZ Test and City Country and the first ever NSW v Queensland Origin match for Toyota Cup players
- A Good Friday afternoon game between Souths and the Bulldogs as well as the Friday night game between the WestsTigers and the Broncos.
- An Anzac Day double featuring the Roosters and the Dragons in Sydney and the Storm against the Warriors in Melbourne
- No club to face more than one home game during the three stand-down weekends leading into State Of Origin
- Origin matches in Melbourne (May 23), Sydney (June 13) and Brisbane (July 4)
- The Storm v Broncos in Melbourne in the round immediately following Origin 1.
- Men of League Heritage Round (March 30-April 2) featuring the WestsTigers and the Rabbitohs at the SCG, a 10-year celebration of the Roosters v Warriors Grand Final and  the Broncos marking 20 years since their first Premiership with a match-up against St George Illawarra
- Matches scheduled for Perth (Souths v Broncos rd 4), Darwin (Roosters v Cowboys rd 7)  and Adelaide (Bulldogs v Storm rd 16)
- The ‘Pink’ Panthers hosting Parramatta during the Harvey Norman Women In League Round (rd 16)
- Rivalry Rounds (rd 19 and 20) that give every team a home game over a two-week period to signal the charge to the Finals
- Close the Gap Round (rd22).

“The draw provides a taste of the incredible opportunities that lie ahead for Rugby League in 2012 and beyond,” NRL Chief Executive, Mr David Gallop, said today.

“Wayne Bennett’s Knights taking on St George Illawarra in the opening game followed by a Grand Final replay at Eden Park .. and that is just in week one.

“Fans will already be looking to see when they face their biggest rivals, when players line-up against former clubs and how they can plan their year.

“Counting down to the key events of the season is a big part of everyone’s summer and this is a draw that combines innovation with old fashioned rivalries.

“From the heartlands of Sydney to Brisbane, Townsville, New Zealand, Melbourne, Newcastle and Canberra, Darwin, Perth and Adelaide this competition will take Rugby League across Australia and New Zealand providing surprise, drama, fun and exhilaration at every turn.

“Our Football Operations and Marketing teams led by Nathan McGuirk, Shaun Wendt and Michael Johnstone have worked closely with clubs and the game’s scheduling committee to bring together a draw that takes into account the opportunities for clubs to market their games and build on the strong crowd and membership figures recorded in 2011.

“The message for everyone now is to secure your club membership and your seat at the game.”

To view the entire draw, please click here