2016 Draw: Top 10 road trips
Whether you fancy an international excursion, a chance to travel far and wide throughout Australia or merely a drive into the countryside, there are many wonderful experiences waiting for you in season 2016.
A debut tour of Taranaki
Warriors fans get to take their support to new territory as the club hosts an historic first NRL match in Taranaki at New Plymouth's Yarrow Stadium that will serve as a true homecoming for new Warrior Issac Luke. While 'Bully' is no doubt in for a royal reception when the Warriors play the Raiders in Round 11, you too can follow in the footsteps of royalty and take in some of the offerings in Taranaki that Prince Charles and Camilla recently enjoyed.
Sure, high tea, art galleries and the national toy museum might not be on the itinerary of many visiting footy fans but rest assured you can end the night watching sport and drinking beer at New Plymouth's most aptly named sports bar, Crowded House. NRL.com cannot confirm nor deny whether Tim and Neil Finn are regular patrons.
Fans of the Bulldogs and Panthers also have the chance to include a New Zealand interlude with their footy in 2016 with Canterbury heading back to Westpac Stadium in Wellington in Round 7 to face the Warriors while the men from Penrith are booked in to play the Warriors in Christchurch in Round 10.
Honoured that the @nzwarriors have managed to get a game in my home #TARANAKI am so overwhelmed. Now people please share this around NZ. Let's get #yarrowstadium packed. Will run a draw sometime next year ill keep you posted. ✊🏾✊🏾✊🏾 #likedatay can't wait to see everyone. Especially my nan Koko and dad. #humbled
At the foot of a legend
They may be known as the men who regularly play at the foot of the Blue Mountains but it's impossible to visit Bathurst and not play second fiddle in some respects to another famous mountain, Mount Panorama. Carrington Park, the venue of the Panthers' Round 9 clash with the Raiders sits in the shadows of motor racing's most famous monolith and will be an attraction in itself for fans who make the trek from the ACT and all corners of the Central West.
Although they went down to the Sharks in the first of their regular visits to Bathurst two years ago, Penrith put on a second-half clinic against the Titans in 2015 that saw Panthers fans leave elated. While in Bathurst be sure to pop into Bernard's Bakery for a pie, visit the National Motor Racing Museum and – as someone who spent three years at uni there – I highly recommend a relaxing beverage in the beer garden of the Oxford Tavern.
The champions return
Road trips are nothing new for fans of the North Queensland Cowboys but never in the club's 20-year history have they had the chance to converge on 1300SMILES Stadium as NRL Telstra Premiership champions. Who knows, by the time they host the Sharks in Round 1 they could be world champions if they get the better of Leeds in England which will only add to the momentous occasion. Regardless of where they are sitting on the ladder a Cowboys game at 1300SMILES Stadium is an event that stops an entire region and should be on the bucket list of every footy fan.
The tropical weather makes it an ideal mid-winter escape and once you arrive at the ground you have to try the famous fish wrap, grab a XXXX Gold and a spot on the hill. Stroll The Strand, pop into Reef HQ to view the largest living coral reef aquarium or watch saltwater crocs leap from the water at the daily show at Billabong Sanctuary. And bask in the wonderment of JT. Who knows, if you get close enough you might even head home with a partly used headgear.
The 'Gong road less travelled
Coaches espouse it all the time; it's not about the destination, it's the journey to get there that's most important.
Sure, fans of the Panthers – and Kogarah-based Dragons fans for that matter – could simply steer their cars onto the major motorways and get to WIN Stadium in Wollongong to watch 80 minutes of football in Round 4 but they'd largely be missing the point.
Rather than staying on the Princes Motorway, take a left when you get to Stanwell Tops and take the road less travelled.
You will experience the spectacular Sea Cliff bridge and if you are organised enough, have time to stop into the scenic Scarborough Hotel for their famous fish and chips in the beer garden or terraces overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Pop back into the car, drive down through Coledale and Austinmer and whatever happens out on the football field won't matter nearly as much.
South-east Queensland triple-header
The English Super League has the 'Magic Weekend' but for the meantime three NRL games across three days in south-east Queensland is about as close as we're going to get.
In a stroke of marketing genius and logistical contortionism the Storm and Sea Eagles have both decided to take home games against the Cowboys and Broncos respectively to Queensland, and they have both decided to do it in Round 10, at the same venue!
Saturday, May 14 won't be the first time Suncorp Stadium has hosted a double-header but never have so many current and prospective Maroons representatives been on show back-to-back over four hours.
Smith, Slater, Cronk, Chambers, Thurston, O'Neill, Morgan, Scott, Myles, Cherry-Evans, Thaiday, Parker, Boyd, Gillett, McGuire, Hunt and Milford will – injury aside – all be there which should be more than enough to confuse die-hard Queenslanders regarding who they should be cheering for.
But wait, there's more!
After two games on the one night spend Sunday looking after the all-important recovery at Dreamworld or Movie World and then back up on Monday night to watch the Titans take on the star-studded Roosters at Cbus Super Stadium.
When too much footy is never enough.
Going back to Belmore... again
Those who were on the hill at Belmore and witnessed the Bulldogs' blistering opening against the Storm on a Monday night in Round 16 can't help but crack a smile any time that particular game gets a mention.
They were given a follow-up dose against the Sharks four weeks later but for those who didn't get back to Belmore in 2015, there are two further chances this season.
Early April should provide beautifully temperate weather for the Round 5 clash with the Raiders on Monday night and then spring will most certainly be in there when Johnathan Thurston plays there for the first time in his career against his former club.
Occasions such as this are special because they are rare and after going 17 years without a game at Belmore it's an opportunity all footy fans should take up.
Rugby league and rock 'n' roll
The whole idea of a footy trip – and a key factor in getting it across the line at home – is the phrase, "Let's make a weekend of it!"
Yes, that can often mean cramming the boys into the back of the Camry and spending the weekend either at the footy or in a drinking establishment but there are also times to do it classy-like; and the Round 6 clash between the Knights and Wests Tigers in Newcastle is the perfect opportunity.
Hunter Valley Wine Country has long been established as a haven for romantic getaways and if you can throw in a night at Bimbadgen Estate of Chris Isaak California crooning supported by James Reyne, Richard Clapton and Thirsty Merc on the Saturday then the better half will only be too happy to sit on the hill at Hunter Stadium on a (hopefully) sunny Sunday afternoon and watch a couple of games of footy.
Queensland heavyweights meet in Cairns
GI v JT.
Plaster that poster all over North Queensland for the six weeks leading up to the Round 17 match between the Rabbitohs and Cowboys at Barlow Park in Cairns and watch the holiday Mecca burst at the seams.
Although the Rabbitohs will be travelling to Cairns for the third year in succession, North Queensland were very nearly based there when they came into the competition in 1995 and given the response to their premiership triumph it's well and truly Cowboys country now.
Falling in between Origin II and III rugby league fever will be at boiling point in the tropics where the Bunnies suffered a boilover of their own in 2015 when the plucky Raiders came back from 16-4 down at half-time to win 30-22.
It's a 4pm kick-off on Sunday, July 3 so South Sydney fans can escape the cold, visit the reef and say it was all for the love of their team.
Spend a day with your arch rivals
There's a wonderfully comforting feeling in travelling to a home game to join like-minded souls but there's also a lot to be said for driving into the mouth of the dragon, particularly at suburban grounds where the gladiatorial atmosphere still prevails.
You know you're going to be outnumbered but there is a sense of purpose that comes from wearing your team's colours proudly behind enemy lines.
Wear your 'Dogs jersey into Brookvale in Round 1; have your Dragons flag waving from the car as you cross Tom Uglys Bridge on your way to Shark Park in Round 2; show how serious you are by walking into Mt Smart Stadium in your Storm bomber jacket when Melbourne plays the Warriors in Round 3.
Think about the team you love to beat the most, and then start planning your infiltration. It will be one of your most treasured experiences of the season.
A taste of Top End rugby league
I'm an Australian guilty of looking overseas for adventure rather than exploring first at home. We always seem to find a reason to go elsewhere rather than visit extraordinary places in our own country.
In 2016 fans of the Eels and Titans have TWO chances to watch their teams do battle in an environment in the Northern Territory that is completely foreign to many of us.
The first of the Top end tussles occurs in a trial game in Alice Springs on February 13 and then heads north to Darwin's T10 Stadium four months later for the Round 14 clash that will be the fifth year in succession that an NRL game has been played in the Territory's most populous city.
For Titans fans who really fancy mixing their football with a mid-year adventure they can head to Darwin via Perth where their team will play the Rabbitohs in Round 13 at nib Stadium.
By the time they get back to the Gold Coast that will be a round trip of more than 10,000 kilometres all for the love of rugby league.