Reduction in five-day turnarounds for 2017
Preparations for next season can officially get underway after NRL CEO Todd Greenberg launched the 2017 Telstra Premiership draw on Thursday morning in front of NRL members and fans.
With defending premiers the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks set to kick off the season against heavyweights the Brisbane Broncos, rugby league fans should expect one of the tightest competitions on record.
Speaking to media following the draw announcement outside Rugby League Central, Greenberg announced a 39 per cent drop in five-day turnaround from 31 in 2016 to just 19 next season in a move that will help alleviate player burnout.
Paying special tribute to the Rugby League Players' Association, he also indicated that number could fall in future years as the NRL continues to look after player welfare.
"The draw looks to me like it's going to be a wonderful mix of games in different slots, and I think fans can be rightfully very excited about what's coming," Greenberg said.
"Ultimately we try to minimise the disruption of players as best we can, and we've made a really strong statement today that player welfare is very important to us.
"We thank the RLPA in particular because they've worked really close with us to reduce that, and we've reduced it significantly from last year which I'm really pleased about."
Trying to appease the 16 clubs, various media outlets as well as stadia across Australia and New Zealand was never going to be an easy task, but after several months of hard work Greenberg said the final result was one rugby league fans should be excited about.
"The draw has a variety of competing interests so it's near impossible to get everything you want out of a draw like this. We tried to maximise our opportunities and I think that's what we've done," he said.
"It's a really difficult process, it really is.
"You've got competing interests of what clubs are looking for, you've got obviously two very important broadcast partners, and you've also got to overlay that with the availability of all our stadiums, both here and in New Zealand.
"It's a very difficult piece of work that takes several months to pull together, but I'm really happy with where we're at and I'm really happy that fans can start to lock in their plans for next year."
One of the biggest changes to the draw is the introduction of a 6pm Friday night game to be broadcast live on Fox Sports.
Greenberg conceded there would be some logistical challenges to overcome but trumpeted the fact that it was a far superior option than asking fans to stay up late to watch a second Friday night game on delay.
"Fans will be able to see two games live on Fridays and, while the early game may present some challenges in terms of attendances, we think it will be a big hit," he said.
"Certainly this is a much more family friendly time than the late-night Friday game that we had a couple of years ago."
Another positive to come out of the draw is the NRL's decision to take games to every mainland state and territory in Australia.
Greenberg said the push to play games in non-traditional rugby league states would be the ideal lead-in to next year's World Cup.
"It's really good to have a national footprint across all of our emerging markets, and when the World Cup comes to us next year, there are a lot of games across the country both here and in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea," he said.
"It's been a focus for us to try to continue to grow the game at the elite level, but also showcase it to juniors for participation."