The NRL has today released the 2016 NRL Telstra Premiership Schedule, which is designed primarily to benefit supporters.
Following the landmark broadcast rights deal, which was announced this afternoon, the 2016 NRL Telstra Premiership season will see matches scheduled on Thursday nights in 18 of the 26 rounds.
But importantly, there will be no increase in the amount of five-day turnarounds.
And NRL Head of Football Todd Greenberg announced today that early-season blockbusters had been deliberately scheduled in family-friendly timeslots.
They include Sam Burgess’s return for South Sydney against traditional rivals Sydney Roosters in Round 1 on Sunday afternoon, as well as premiers North Queensland’s season-opener, which will be played on Saturday, March 4 against fellow finalists Cronulla.
Other highlights of the 2016 schedule include:
• Kieran Foran’s Parramatta Eels opening the season on Thursday, March 3, against grand finalists Brisbane Broncos at Pirtek Stadium, followed up with another home match against the Cowboys in Round 2.
• The Grand Final rematch between North Queensland and Brisbane on Good Friday at Suncorp Stadium.
• An ANZAC Round which will include traditional blockbusters St George Illawarra v Sydney Roosters and Melbourne v Warriors on ANZAC Day.
• A Saturday night double header at Suncorp Stadium in Round 10, featuring Storm v Cowboys and Sea Eagles v Broncos.
Mr Greenberg also stressed that player welfare was a strong consideration through negotiations with broadcasters Channel Nine and Fox Sports.
"We wanted to ensure both fans and players benefited from the schedule," Mr Greenberg said. "Importantly, we worked hard to ensure there was no increase in five-day turnarounds following feedback from the players.
"We will also see some huge blockbusters over the opening rounds of the Premiership at family-friendly times.
"We targeted Sunday afternoons in Sydney to ensure more people were able to see some of our biggest clashes over the opening few months of the competition.
"We worked with the broadcasters and Cowboys to ensure the club got its wish of a Saturday night game in Round One rather than a traditional Thursday night for the Premiers – to ensure their fans who travel long distances are rewarded and given the opportunity to see their team open up their premiership defence.
"And Good Friday will see the traditional South Sydney-Bulldogs match as well as the grand final rematch between Brisbane and North Queensland.
"We will also be taking the game across the full breadth of Australia and New Zealand – we will see matches in Darwin, Perth, Bathurst, Cairns, Gosford as well as Christchurch, Wellington and for the first time New Plymouth.
"I’d like to thank both Channel Nine and Fox Sports for their hard work in ensuring we have such a strong draw and importantly one which benefits our fans, as well as the stars who will be entertaining them every week."
Hugh Marks, CEO of Nine Entertainment Co., said: "The change of schedule from the delayed Friday night coverage to live Thursday nights is a great outcome for 2016, giving fans more access to their favourite teams and players live and in high definition."
FOX SPORTS CEO, Patrick Delany, added: "In 2016, FOX SPORTS will be the only place to watch the Super Saturday triple-header, the Sunday afternoon match and Monday Night Football.
"We will continue to deliver ground breaking coverage with the best entertainment and analysis complementing our live matches all week long providing a fan experience like no other." Mr Delany said.
The full schedule can be found at www.nrl.com.