Willie Mason comes face to face with a crocodile in the 'Cage of Death'.
With the release of the draw on Wednesday, fans from the 16 NRL clubs are looking at flight details and accommodation options to plot just how far they will go to support their team in 2014.
There are games spread far and wide throughout Australia and New Zealand and still the possibility of an historic game in China, so grab your passport and a calendar and mark these dates down in your diary.
1. Friday, March 14
Gosford (Sea Eagles v Rabbitohs)
The only clash scheduled for Bluetongue Stadium in 2014 is the perfect chance for Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs fans to book in a sneaky weekend away before the season hits full swing. Yes, you’d be well advised to take Friday off to bypass the F3 (sorry, M1) traffic, but once you’re there it will be well and truly worth it. If you want to make it really special, why not pop on the ferry from Palm Beach to Ettalong, use that as your base and just venture into Gosford at game-time.
2. Saturday, March 15
Eden Park, Auckland (Warriors v Dragons)
Exactly 100 years since the first two grandstands were opened at Eden Park, the Warriors' first home game of the season represents a great chance for Dragons fans to soak up New Zealand sporting history in the country’s largest stadium. The 60,000-capacity ground has its own Hall of Legends with more than 2,000 pieces of Kiwi sporting memorabilia and has been a graveyard for visiting Wallaby teams since 1986. It’s a 3pm Saturday afternoon kick-off so you can spend Saturday night in Auckland either at the Bruno Mars concert, a performance of Mamma Mia or simply stroll the Morningside Night Market.
3. Saturday, March 15
Melbourne (Storm v Panthers)
We haven’t carried out extensive research but we reckon there’d be some Panthers fans who love their cars as much as their footy. Well good news, because you can combine both passions in one extraordinary weekend in Melbourne.
The Panthers’ Round 2 clash with the Storm just happens to fall on the evening before the 2014 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park. Tickets to the Grand Prix are on sale from as little as $39 and if you based yourself in the CBD or down at Southbank you could walk to the footy on Saturday afternoon and then the F1 on Sunday. Just remember to pack the ear plugs.
4. Saturday, March 29
Perth (Bulldogs v Storm)
The first of two games in the Western Australia capital in 2014 and a great time to get away and soak up all Perth has to offer. A massive crowd turned out at nib Stadium to watch the Warriors battle the Rabbitohs this year and with a strong Kiwi contingent in the Bulldogs team, they may garner much of the home-ground support. But it’s not all about the footy. The Perth Festival of Cycling will be conducted the same weekend but if you’d prefer a slower pace, grab a spot on the Verandah Bar at the Cottesloe Beach Hotel and enjoy a cool beverage while you watch the sun set over the ocean and then head in for a dinner of WA snapper at The Beach Club.
5. Saturday, April 12
Canberra (Raiders v Knights)
With a 3pm Saturday kick-off in the nation’s capital, if Newcastle fans were ever thinking of a time to visit Canberra this would be the one. If the sun’s out and winter hasn’t turned up unexpectedly early, an afternoon on the hill at GIO Stadium is a very pleasant experience. After the game you can immerse yourself in the world of government with a drink at the Polit Bar in Manuka or simply head to Benchmark Wine Bar for a taste of the finer things in life. There are a host of fascinating and educational activities also, including the Australian War Memorial, Questacon, National Dinosaur Museum, Australian Institute of Sport and the CSIRO Discovery Centre.
6. Friday, April 18
Hunter Valley (Knights v Broncos)
What better way to treat the special someone in your life than with a romantic Easter long weekend in the beautiful Hunter Valley. Take a hot-air balloon ride at dawn, sample some of the famous local wines, stroll through the stunning Hunter Valley Gardens or book in for some pampering at one of the luxurious day spas.
And when you have outlined all of this to your partner, gently suggest that catching the Broncos in Newcastle on the Friday night would make for a very good Friday indeed.
7. Saturday May 10
Gold Coast (Titans v Rabbitohs)
There are going to be a few criteria you will need to meet if this week away is going to appeal. Firstly, you need to be over the age of 50. Secondly, you need to be a golfer with a maximum handicap of 36.4 for men and 45.4 for women. Finally, being a Bunnies fan probably helps. Tick all these boxes and a week at Sanctuary Cove playing in the Australian International Seniors Golf Championship sounds right up your alley. The championships run from Sunday, April 4 through until the final round on Friday, April 9, which should give you just enough time to recover and head out to Robina Stadium on Saturday night to cheer on the Rabbitohs.
8. Sunday, May 18
Waikato (Bulldogs v Warriors)
Few places in the world enable you to package up a footy trip with a visit to Middle Earth but if you head to Waikato to see the Bulldogs take on the Warriors in May, then spending time in Hobbiton is a must. A permanent reminder from the filming of “The Hobbit” in 2011, the Hobbiton Movie Set gives you a first-hand look into how things looked when filming was taking place gets you up close with more than 17 hobbit holes from the film including Bag End and Samwise Gamtree’s house.
Of course, Waikato has more to offer than little men with hairy feet with a wide variety of outdoor activities, including cycling, hiking, cave exploration and some world class golf courses. And if the muscles start to ache, head for the natural hot soda water springs of Te Aroha.
9. August 1-4
There’s barely an Aussie in the country who at some point isn’t looking to spend a few days in tropical North Queensland and the 2014 NRL draw has provided exactly that opportunity. Although the exact dates won’t be known until the end of June, just block out four days on your calendar from August 1-4 for some northern exposure. The Cowboys are hosting the Titans in Townsville while the same weekend the Rabbitohs play the Knights in Cairns so you can do the double or pick one and settle in. Our recommendation is to go to both games (of course) and base yourself at Mission Beach – a halfway point and two hours from both Cairns and Townsville – for a few days of post-Origin R&R.
10. August 8-11
Darwin (Eels v Raiders)
There are some interesting locals to be found in Darwin but the best way to get to know some of the most unique characters is to head into Mitchell Street and say hi to Chopper, Denzel, Houdini and Bess... local residents of Crocosaurus Cove.
See what happened when Johnathan Thurston and Willie Mason entered the ‘Cage of Death’
Crocosaurus Cove has the largest collection of Australian reptiles in the world and some of the biggest saltwater crocodiles on display on the planet and you can enter their world by taking a dive in the ‘Cage of Death’ either by yourself or with a friend. Perhaps instead of an ice bath the losing captain of this game should jump in for a swim with 5.5-metre, 790-kilogram Chopper.