NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg predicted the opening fixture at the new Western Sydney Stadium on Easter Monday will be the "hottest ticket in town" next season, as he unveiled a draw with a heavy focus on Sunday afternoon clashes between Sydney clubs.
With Parramatta striking a deal to play nine home games at Western Sydney Stadium just hours before the 2019 NRL draw was finalised, the NRL announced the Eels and Wests Tigers would open the venue before an anticipated 30,000 capacity crowd on Easter Monday.
Parramatta will play nine home games at the yet to be completed stadium, which will also play host to four Tigers home matches and Canterbury's round-20 clash with Penrith.
Negotiations are also close to being finalised for an end-of-season International Nines tournament at Western Sydney Stadium, while next year's Pacific Test could be held there on June 22 during the stand-alone representative weekend.
Other significant features of the draw announcement include:
- 17 Sunday afternoon derbies with traditional Sydney rivals;
- The season opener being played in Melbourne on Thursday, March 14 before the AFL season starts;
- A grand final rematch between the Storm and premiers Sydney Roosters on Good Friday;
- All 16 clubs to take part in Magic Round at Suncorp Stadium from Thursday, May 9 to Sunday, May 12;
- The Roosters to move games from the SCG to Gosford if the AFL schedules Sydney Swans at home on the same weekend;
- State of Origin II in Perth on Sunday June 23, which will kick-off in daylight, being almost sold out, and;
- The Easter weekend round to extend from Thursday night’s Cronulla-Penrith clash to Monday’s Eels-Tigers game.
Greenberg said he anticipated tickets to the Eels-Tigers match on April 22 to sell out quickly.
"I expect that will probably be the hottest ticket in town in 2019," Greenberg said. "I would be surprised if it doesn’t sell out very quickly because you are going to get a whole pile of rugby league fans who want to see that stadium for the first time.
"We are going to work with government and Parramatta on the event because there is a whole pile of history about opening it for the first time, there is also a whole pile of recognition about what has gone on previously with the history of the stadium and those sorts of things."
Eels members will have the first option to buy tickets before they go on sale to the general public.
Parramatta’s second home match at Western Sydney Stadium against St George Illawarra on May 5 will be one of 17 Sunday afternoon game between traditional Sydney rivals.
The Eels will also meet the Tigers for a second time on Sunday, July 14, while the Dragons and Cronulla clash twice in Sunday afternoon derbies at Shark Park and WIN Stadium.
"The number of big rivalry games on Sunday afternoons between Sydney teams is a very strong outcome for the game," Greenberg said.
South Sydney and the Roosters, Penrith and Parramatta, and Brisbane and North Queensland will also meet twice during the season.
Sydney clubs also have few home matches scheduled in the 6pm Friday timeslot.
Greenberg said it had been a deliberate strategy to open the season with the Storm hosting the Broncos at AAMI Stadium on a weekend when there was no AFL in Melbourne.
"There are other tenants at the stadium that play so venue availability makes it hard but we jumped in and made sure we got a slot to open the season," he said.
"There is always a battle for eyeballs and relevance, and it is no surprise that in round 25 Melbourne have had a home game the last few years when AFL go into hibernation before their finals series and we saw a real opportunity again this year to open the season so we took it."
However, Roosters home matches from round 14 have TBA as the venue because the Swans have sole usage of the SCG for the entire weekend they are scheduled to play there.
The NRL has been in discussion with the AFL to avoid a scheduling clash but their draw is not yet finalised so there is uncertainty about whether the Roosters can play some of their games at the SCG or shift them to Gosford.
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