2018 NRL Draw: What you need to know
We preview the biggest games, toughest runs, Origin impact and more for your team in the 2018 Telstra Premiership NRL season.
Teams they play twice: Bulldogs, Sharks, Titans, Sea Eagles, Storm, Warriors, Cowboys, Rabbitohs, Roosters.
Teams they play once: Raiders, Knights, Eels, Panthers, Dragons, Wests Tigers.
Starting point: There is a month of mouth-watering match-ups for the powerhouse Brisbane club to kick-off season 2018, starting with a trip to Kogarah to meet the familiar face of Ben Hunt in Dragons colours for the first time. This is followed by the continuation of the best rivalry in the game today against the Cowboys on a Friday night at Suncorp Stadium in Round 2. A week later they travel to Campbelltown to tackle old mate Benji Marshall and a new-look Wests Tigers team, and then there's an Easter Sunday blockbuster to look forward to against South East Queensland rivals the Titans in Round 4.
Tough run: Four significant road trips in the first six weeks (Sydney, Auckland and Newcastle) will provide an early test of the combinations that will be formed over the pre-season but that is offset somewhat by a nine-week stretch in the middle of the season with just three away games, one of which is down the M1 to the Gold Coast. The last five weeks of the regular season also have the potential to significantly impact where the Broncos end up after 25 weeks with away trips to take on the Bulldogs, Cowboys and Roosters and home clashes against South Sydney and Manly.
Show-stoppers: The Round 2 clash with North Queensland at Suncorp Stadium and the return bout in Townsville in Round 22 are virtually guaranteed sell-outs and the Broncos can expect a boisterous welcome from the Dragon Army in Round 1. A 2.00pm Sunday timeslot in Round 18 against a Warriors team that traditionally draws a big crowd should also prove popular for Broncos fans who didn't get to see their team play at home on a Sunday afternoon once in 2017.
Origin impact: Given the restructure of the Origin schedule in 2018 there is just the one game where the Broncos will be impacted, and given the bragging rights on offer, it's kind of a big one. The Broncos will meet the Titans in Round 17 on the Gold Coast without the likes of Darius Boyd, Josh McGuire and Matt Gillett but have the luxury of the bye in the build-up to Origin I. Broncos representatives also have the benefit of the longest possible recovery after Game One and Game Three, drawn to play the Storm and Warriors on the following Sunday.
Teams they play twice: Titans, Warriors, Sea Eagles, Bulldogs, Rabbitohs, Sharks, Cowboys, Panthers, Wests Tigers.
Teams they play once: Knights, Eels, Dragons, Broncos, Storm, Roosters.
Starting point: The Raiders feature in the final match of the opening round in a tricky away game on the Gold Coast on Sunday night before a pair of home games against Newcastle and the Warriors in what, on paper, looks to be a relatively gentle start to season 2018.
Tough run: The five games from Round 16 to Round 20 could make or break the Green Machine's season with four away trips to face the Broncos, Bulldogs, Sharks and Storm plus a home game against the Cowboys.
Show-stoppers: If you reside in the nation's capital get ready to black out the home games in Round 12 and 14 against the Sea Eagles and Panthers respectively. The two teams that, more than any other, brought the Raiders' 2017 undone with four agonisingly close and/or late (and at-times spiteful) losses head to Canberra either side of the Round 13 bye with Raiders fans no doubt desperate to see some revenge inflicted.
Origin impact: (Bye: Round 13.) Origin is probably a positive for Canberra next year with the Raiders to face a Bulldogs side in Round 17 that will likely be missing at least a few key forwards to NSW Blues duty.
Teams they play twice: Roosters, Panthers, Rabbitohs, Raiders, Broncos, Eels, Sharks, Wests Tigers, Dragons.
Teams they play once: Storm, Cowboys, Titans, Knights, Sea Eagles, Warriors.
Starting point: The new-look Bulldogs are one of the four teams featuring in the historic Round 1 Perth double-header. Dean Pay's first game at the helm – along with new buys Kieran Foran and Aaron Woods – will be a mammoth challenge against premiers Melbourne at Perth Stadium. The Roosters, Panthers and Broncos round out a tough opening month for the Dogs.
Tough run: Their start is tough, and it leads into a really tricky spell from Rounds 5 to 9. The Dogs' only game at ANZ Stadium in that period is against the Roosters, with trips to Canberra, Townsville, Penrith and Brisbane set to test the blue and whites.
Show-stoppers: A big Friday night clash in Round 10 against old rivals Parramatta will be one to look out for. There are a pair of Belmore games in Rounds 15 and 17 against the Titans and Raiders for Dogs fans keen to get back to the spiritual home patch. And let's not forget the massive Good Friday clash against Souths in Round 4.
Origin impact: (Bye: Round 13.) The Dogs' only game minus the likes of Josh Jackson, Dave Klemmer and Aaron Woods comes in Round 17 against a Canberra side likely to feature few Origin reps outside Josh Papalii. Dogs fans will be hoping the Belmore factor helps lift the team in those stars' absence.
Teams they play twice: Cowboys, Dragons, Eels, Storm, Panthers, Raiders, Bulldogs, Knights, Broncos.
Teams they play once: Roosters, Titans, Rabbitohs, Wests Tigers, Warriors, Sea Eagles.
Starting point: Josh Dugan's first game in black, white and blue will be a stiff early test with one of the toughest road trips in the game. The Sharks travel to Townsville to face 2017 Grand Finalists North Queensland, a side they have had some ding-dong battles with in the recent past (most notably the elimination final that ended Cronulla's 2017 season), on Friday night. From there they host a local derby against the Dragons before taking on the Eels at ANZ Stadium.
Tough run: The Sharks have dodged any particularly gruelling clusters of games either away or against 2017's top teams. The trickiest spell looks to be from Rounds 20-23 against Brisbane (away), Manly (at home), Storm (away) and Cowboys (at home).
Show-stoppers: Get ready for a high-intensity grudge match in Round 4 with a Good Friday bell-ringer at Southern Cross Group Stadium against premiers Melbourne. There will also be plenty of feeling on show in Round 23 when the Cowboys come to town with each side, by that stage, likely to be jostling for finals and potentially top-four or top-two positions. The Round 2 Thursday night local derby against the Red V is another for Sharks fans to mark in the calendar.
Origin impact: (Bye: Round 17.) Cronulla will likely be missing a host of stars such as Wade Graham, Andrew Fifita, Josh Dugan, Valentine Holmes and James Maloney in Round 13 against a South Sydney team likely to be minimally affected outside Dane Gagai and Greg Inglis.
Gold Coast Titans
Teams they play twice: Broncos, Raiders, Sea Eagles, Storm, Knights, Warriors, Cowboys, Panthers, Roosters.
Teams they play once: Sharks, Bulldogs, Eels, Rabbitohs, Dragons, Wests Tigers.
Starting point: On paper having three 'home' games and another against the Broncos in Brisbane looks like a relatively travel-free beginning for the Titans but the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games complicates matters somewhat. A Round 1 clash with the Raiders is followed by a trip to New Zealand to face the Warriors before the first of two home games that have been transferred to regional centres. In Round 3 the Titans will host the Dragons in the Sunday afternoon Channel Nine game in the first premiership game to be played in Toowoomba, and then in Round 5 they head north to Gladstone to play Manly in the 2.00pm Sunday slot at Marley Brown Oval.
Tough run: Starting with their Round 5 clash with Manly in Gladstone, the Titans rack up the frequent flyer miles over the space of five weeks. After the trip to Central Queensland the Titans head to Sydney's west to play Penrith, travel north again to Townsville the week after to face the Cowboys, reacquaint themselves with Cbus Super Stadium against the Sharks in Round 8 and then head to Canberra to take on the Raiders in Round 9.
Show-stoppers: After the disappointments of 2017 the Titans need to first win back some credibility before they can begin talking up rivalries, but a rematch with the Storm in the Suncorp Stadium double-header in Round 10 will be something to savour if it can live up to this year's meeting. The highlights may well be the response they are likely to receive from the rugby league fans of Toowoomba and Gladstone who have never previously had the opportunity to watch an NRL game in their home town. Expect the scenes to come from the Toowoomba game against the Dragons to be one of the highlights of the opening month.
Origin impact: Unaffected by Origin I, the Titans will only lose their rep stars for the Round 17 meeting with the Broncos at Cbus Super Stadium. Jarrod Wallace and Nathan Peats would appear the most likely players to be missing and if Jarryd Hayne retains his Blues jersey it will mean he has enjoyed a sparkling start to 2018. Any Titans reps in Origin I will have just two days to recover before hosting the Rabbitohs at Cbus Super Stadium in Round 14.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Teams they play twice: Knights, Eels, Raiders, Titans, Wests Tigers, Roosters, Broncos, Storm, Panthers.
Teams they play once: Rabbitohs, Cowboys, Warriors, Dragons, Sharks, Bulldogs.
Starting point: Trent Barrett couldn't have asked for a better start to the season with the Sea Eagles set to meet just one top-eight team from 2017 (Parramatta) in the first six weeks.
Tough run: Things start to get tricky in Round 15 when they travel to Wollongong to take on the Red V before they earn an Origin-influenced week off. Either side of their Round 17 bye the Sea Eagles are set to face the Panthers and Storm, with fellow top-eight sides the Roosters, Panthers (again) and Sharks to follow in the next three weeks.
Show-stoppers: Manly will take on the Rabbitohs in the Round 3 double-header at ANZ Stadium, while they'll be hoping for a better result when they rekindle their rivalry with the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane's festival of footy. The Round 20 game against Penrith at Lottoland should be a cracker after the Panthers knocked Manly out of the 2017 finals in controversial circumstances.
Origin impact: (Bye: Round 17) Their Round 13 showdown with the Cowboys looks like a blessing on paper, but the Lottoland clash might be a danger game for Manly depending on how many of their players are selected in the Origin squads. The Trbojevic brothers, Dylan Walker and Daly Cherry-Evans are all in contention, while North Queensland will have Johnathan Thurston at their disposal given he has retired from the representative arena.
Teams they play twice: Wests Tigers, Cowboys, Sharks, Knights, Broncos, Warriors, Dragons, Titans, Sea Eagles.
Teams they play once: Bulldogs, Roosters, Raiders, Rabbitohs, Eels, Panthers.
Starting point: The Storm feature in the Perth double-header where they'll take on the Bulldogs in Round 1 for the second year in a row. They play Wests Tigers twice in the first five rounds – the Round 5 fixture is part of the Mt Smart double-header – but the key clash is the grand final replay to kick-off Round 3 when they host the Cowboys.
Tough run: The Origin period is always a tricky time of the year for Melbourne and their task hasn't been helped with the defending premiers drawn against top-quality opposition either side of the series opener. The Storm face Manly in Round 11, travel to Townsville the following week, enjoy the bye before they host Brisbane, travel to meet the resurgent Knights and finish off their stretch with a game against the Roosters in Sydney.
Show-stoppers: The Round 1 double-header in Perth could draw a crowd in excess of 50,000 and will double as Billy Slater's 300th NRL appearance. Another bumper crowd is expected in Round 10 when they take part in the Suncorp Stadium double-header. The Storm were stunned by the Titans this year so expect them to come out for revenge at their home away from home.
Origin impact: (Bye: Round 13) Melbourne will be without their rep stars for the Round 17 clash against the Dragons, but as they showed in 2017, there is more than enough talent in the Victorian capital to cover for the likes of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Will Chambers.
Teams they play twice: Sea Eagles, Titans, Roosters, Storm, Eels, Wests Tigers, Panthers, Sharks, Dragons.
Teams they play once: Raiders, Broncos, Bulldogs, Rabbitohs, Cowboys, Warriors.
Starting point: Knights fans have been calling out for more clashes against Manly at McDonald Jones Stadium and they'll get their wish with a Round 1 blockbuster to start. Newcastle have been made to travel to Lottoland in six of the last seven clashes between the two sides. With eight new signings on board for next season, a traditional rivalry first up shapes as the perfect foil to welcome the new recruits to the Hunter.
Tough run: As revealed by NRL.com last month, the Knights had the fourth toughest draw in 2017 and they'll face another tricky opening to the season with six of their first eight games on the road and three away trips in the final month of the regular season.
Show-stoppers: Clashes against the Roosters, Dragons and Bulldogs at home draw strong crowds, while the Old Boys fixture in Round 25 is one not to be missed. The Knights will also take on the Wests Tigers at Scully Park in Tamworth for the first time in NRL history in Round 7.
Origin impact: (Bye: Round 17) The Knights will face the Roosters on home soil three days after Origin I, and then meet Melbourne the following week leading into Game Two. With the side unlikely to feature too many players in representative football, it should give the Novocastrians a good lift with five straight home games during that middle period of the season as well.
North Queensland Cowboys
Teams they play twice: Broncos, Raiders, Sharks, Titans, Storm, Warriors, Eels, Panthers, Rabbitohs.
Teams they play once: Bulldogs, Sea Eagles, Knights, Dragons, Roosters, Wests Tigers.
Starting point: It's a star-studded start to the season for the Cowboys who continue their rivalry with the Sharks in the opening game of the year at 1300SMILES Stadium, before their blockbuster against the Broncos in Brisbane in Round 2. Then Jordan McLean and Patrick Kaufusi get the chance to face their former clubs when North Queensland take on the Storm in the grand final rematch in Melbourne in Round 3.
Tough run: Did we mention that the Cowboys play some very handy teams to open their 2018 campaign? In addition to that testing start the Origin period could be a crucial one with plenty of travel during the busiest period of the year. The Cowboys will be without their Origin stars for the Round 13 assignment against Manly in Sydney and then days after Origin I in Melbourne they play Parramatta in Darwin. A return home in Round 16 to play the Warriors is followed by the stand-alone Origin weekend, a game against the Rabbitohs at their 'home away from home' in Cairns and a trip to Canberra to play the Raiders in the days after Origin III. Could be make or break time.
Show-stoppers: Not counting the Cam and JT testimonial game in Brisbane in February we only have to wait until Round 3 for the grand final rematch with some notable inclusions for the Cowboys and one glaring omission for the Storm. That follows a Round 2 crowd pleaser against the Broncos in Brisbane, the Queensland derby return leg taking place in Townsville in Round 22. A second chance for revenge against the Storm comes in Round 12 just a week before the Origin teams are announced, which should ensure that 1300SMILES Stadium is rocking as many of the best the state has to offer go head-to-head.
Origin impact: Johnathan Thurston's retirement from the rep arena will provide a welcome steadying influence during what shapes as a critical period of North Queensland's season. Although the likes of Michael Morgan, Matt Scott, Gavin Cooper and Coen Hess will only be unavailable for the Round 13 game against Manly, with Origin fixtures to be played in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and away games in Darwin, Cairns and Canberra, there will be plenty of Cowboy sightings in airports across the country in June and July.
Teams they play twice: Panthers, Sea Eagles, Sharks, Wests Tigers, Bulldogs, Knights, Cowboys, Rabbitohs, Dragons.
Teams they play once: Raiders, Warriors, Broncos, Titans, Storm, Roosters.
Starting point: Plenty was made – particularly by Penrith head of football Phil Gould – about western Sydney rivals Penrith and Parra only meeting once in 2017 and the remedy begins in Round 1 2018 with a must-see clash at Panthers Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The Eels keep the rivalries rolling with a Round 2 trip to face the Sea Eagles at Lottoland before their first home game in Round 3 against the Sharks at ANZ Stadium.
Tough run: It may be a blessing – given their 2017 straight-sets final exit after a soft run home – that the Eels face a gruelling run into the finals with a hat-trick of major threats as they travel to Melbourne in Round 23 then Townsville in Round 24 before finishing the regular season with a home game against the Roosters. They'll be finals-ready if they get through that run in decent shape.
Show-stoppers: As always, the huge Round 4 Easter Monday clash against Wests Tigers will be one to pencil into the diary. A week later a Sunday afternoon ANZ Stadium clash against Penrith will give whichever team lost in Round 1 an early shot at redemption. Round 19's Thursday night ANZ Stadium clash against traditional rivals Canterbury could be a pivotal one in the blue-and-golds' late-season push.
Origin impact: (Bye: Round 17.) Minimal. The standalone State of Origin II weekend means just two Origin-affected rounds. The Eels have a bye in the second, while in the first they play a Knights team with both sides unlikely to be significantly affected by selection.
Teams they play twice: Eels, Bulldogs, Cowboys, Titans, Sharks, Knights, Raiders, Sea Eagles, Warriors.
Teams they play once: Rabbitohs, Wests Tigers, Dragons, Roosters, Broncos, Storm.
Starting point: Panthers fans will get a double-dose of rivalry rounds with Anthony Griffin's side drawn to play the Eels twice in the opening five weeks, including a Round 1 blockbuster at Panthers Stadium.
Tough run: The post-Origin period looks like a particularly tricky stretch for the Panthers who are set to host the Sharks, travel to Brisbane, head over the Spit to play Manly before they round out the month with a home game against the Green Machine.
Show-stoppers: Panthers Stadium will be full to the brim when local-rivals the Eels come to town in Round 1, while there's sure to be a bumper crowd when they host the Cowboys under Friday night lights in Bathurst in Round 9.
Origin impact: (Bye: Round 13) Penrith could have as many as half-a-dozen players in the NSW side, or they could very well have no one play for the Blues next year. Josh Mansour, Matt Moylan, Nathan Cleary, Trent Merrin, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Peter Wallace will all come into consideration, but there are no guarantees any of them will be picked. They'll need all hands on deck in Round 17 when they host the Warriors; a side that traditionally thrives at that time of the year.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Teams they play twice: Broncos, Raiders, Bulldogs, Warriors, Cowboys, Eels, Dragons, Roosters, Wests Tigers.
Teams they play once: Sharks, Titans, Sea Eagles, Storm, Knights, Panthers.
Starting point: The Rabbitohs have been given the honour of hosting the Warriors in Round 1 in the double-header to open the new Perth Stadium and then take on three Sydney rivals starting with the Panthers at Penrith in Round 2. Two home games against arch enemies Manly and Canterbury follow at ANZ Stadium, before a clash with the Bulldogs in the traditional Good Friday blockbuster.
Tough run: An eight-week stretch in the middle of the season where the Rabbitohs play only three games at ANZ Stadium will be an excellent test of new coach Anthony Seibold's credentials. In Round 9 the Rabbitohs head north of Sydney to take on the Knights and after a clash with the Dragons back on home soil there are back-to-back away trips to Townsville and Auckland that should provide a stark contrast in terms of playing conditions. A visit to the Gold Coast and then a home game in Cairns against the Cowboys in Round 16 rounds out a hectic two-month period.
Show-stoppers: An expected sell-out crowd of 60,000 at the unveiling of Perth Stadium is an inspiring way to begin a long campaign and the Good Friday blockbuster against the Bulldogs in Round 4 should ensure South Sydney's average home crowds are very healthy over the first month of the season. It will be just shy of six years since South Sydney last played at UOW Jubilee Oval when they face the Dragons in Round 5 and with a meeting against fierce local rivals the Roosters a week later there will be no lack of atmosphere at Rabbitohs games early in 2018.
Origin impact: Queensland reps Greg Inglis and Dane Gagai will miss the Round 13 local derby against the Sharks if they are in camp with the Maroons for Origin I as expected, but that is the only game for which they will be unavailable. Any Souths Origin reps could be forced to back up just two days after the series opener in Melbourne to play the Titans on the Gold Coast and they're looking at another short turnaround after Origin III in Brisbane, a date with the Bulldogs on Saturday night awaiting them in Round 18.
St George Illawarra Dragons
Teams they play twice: Sharks, Knights, Rabbitohs, Warriors, Roosters, Storm, Bulldogs, Eels, Wests Tigers.
Teams they play once: Broncos, Titans, Raiders, Panthers, Sea Eagles, Cowboys.
Starting point: The Dragons better get used to playing on Thursday nights, with the Red V scheduled to kick-off the season against the Broncos at home before they travel to Cronulla the following week in what shapes as a mouth-watering local derby made juicier by the off-season switch by Josh Dugan to the Sharks.
Tough run: The Dragons have been spared any brutal stretches but that doesn't mean it's all smooth sailing. An away game in New Zealand is followed by the traditional Anzac Day clash against the Roosters on a five-day turnaround before they have to back up for another huge game against the Storm.
Show-stoppers: The season-opener should mean a full house in Kogarah. Broncos coach Wayne Bennett will return to take on the side he led to premiership glory while Ben Hunt will wear the famous Red V jersey for the first time against his former teammates. The Round 8 clash with the Roosters is another headline act with the Dragons out for revenge after they were pipped by a Mitchell Pearce field goal in golden point.
Origin impact: (Bye: Round 13) The Dragons will almost certainly be without Tyson Frizell, while you can also expect Ben Hunt and Paul Vaughan to go close to selection in their respective state sides. The Red V will still name a strong side when they travel to Melbourne in Round 17 and will take solace from the fact that the Storm will also be without their representative big guns.
Teams they play twice: Wests Tigers, Knights, Titans, Sea Eagles, Dragons, Bulldogs, Rabbitohs, Warriors, Broncos.
Teams they play once: Sharks, Panthers, Storm, Cowboys, Raiders, Eels.
Starting point: On records alone it looms as a comfortable start for the Tricolours with a clash against the Wests Tigers early, and a fairly comfortable draw altogether if we're basing it off the 2017 season's results. They'll play both grand finalists Melbourne and North Queensland only once each, and on home turf, during the regular season.
Tough run: They're likely to have a strong number of players in Origin so the middle period of the season is vital for Trent Robinson's outfit. The blow has been softened with four home games in five weeks, but overall there is travel to Auckland, Brisbane and the Gold Coast before, during and after the Origin series.
Show-stoppers: A three-week extravaganza looms for the Tricolours starting in Round 6 with the annual rivalry between the Roosters and Rabbitohs, followed then by another love-hate battle with the Bulldogs before finishing with the traditional Anzac Day clash against St George Illawarra at Allianz Stadium.
Origin impact: (Bye: Round 17) The Roosters are set to be heavily depleted in their Round 13 clash with the Wests Tigers due to Origin duty. Roosters skipper Boyd Cordner, Blake Ferguson, Mitchell Pearce, James Tedesco and Dylan Napa all featured in the 2017 series and are likely to be there again in June.
Teams they play twice: Roosters, Storm, Cowboys, Broncos, Dragons, Panthers, Raiders, Bulldogs, Titans.
Teams they play once: Wests Tigers, Eels, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles, Sharks, Knights.
Starting point: A long trip to Perth kicks things off for the Warriors who will face the South Sydney Rabbitohs at the newly built Perth Stadium before returning home for a clash with the Titans in Round 2.
Tough run: Away games are their weakness and they'll be travelling in seven of nine games from Round 14, but finish with three of their last four clashes of the season at Mt Smart Stadium.
Show-stoppers: The traditional Anzac Day fixture against Melbourne in Round 8 is always one to mark on the calendar for Warriors fans, while the side will travel to Christchurch once in 2018 to meet the Sea Eagles in Round 14.
Origin impact: (Bye: Round 13) The Warriors are Kiwi-heavy and are unlikely to feature anyone in the Origin arena. They will welcome Cronulla to Auckland five days after Origin II and take on the Broncos at Suncorp following Game Three – both sides likely to have several players backing up from Origin encounters.
Teams they play twice: Roosters, Bulldogs, Raiders, Dragons, Sea Eagles, Rabbitohs, Storm, Knights, Eels.
Teams they play once: Broncos, Warriors, Cowboys, Panthers, Sharks, Titans.
Starting point: Wests Tigers fans will not have to wait long to face James Tedesco and the Sydney Roosters, with the NRL delivering the mouth-watering clash in the opening round. This will hardly comes as a surprise to the supporter base after last season's campaign began against Robbie Farah's Rabbitohs.
Tough run: The opening five weeks loom as a daunting task for Ivan Cleary's men with all those games against top four-sides from the 2017 season – including two matches against defending premiers Melbourne within the space of a month.
Show-stoppers: The annual Easter Monday clash against Parramatta in Round 4 looms as a blockbuster with the side facing Mitchell Moses's Eels for the first time in 2018, while Round 12 will see the first of two encounters involving new recruit Josh Reynolds and his former club Canterbury. Former Wests Tigers skipper Aaron Woods will also face his old teammates for the first time in that match.
Origin impact: (Bye: Round 17) The Tigers shouldn't be too affected by Origin next season with Woods and Tedesco gone, and in Round 13 could take advantage of a depleted Roosters outfit who are likely to be missing several stars in the lead up to Origin I.