NRL CEO Todd Greenberg has described the 2020 draw as the "most challenging" ever created, with 125 trillion possible combinations boiled down to more regional games and fewer five-day turnarounds in a fan-friendly schedule.
The NRL announced the draw for next season at Rugby League Central on Tuesday, with months of preparation required to navigate renovations at ANZ Stadium, Cronulla's Shark Park and the continued rebuild of Allianz Stadium.
The much-needed upgrades across Sydney resulted in 314 dates being "blocked out" before a final schedule was circulated to clubs and key stakeholders late last week.
Magic Round will return in the first week of May as a three-day festival of footy at Suncorp Stadium, while Origin will break new ground with the men's series kicking off in Adelaide and the women's clash heading to the Sunshine Coast for the first time.
Key features of the 2020 draw include:
- Blockbusters and an expectation of possibly four capacity crowds across round one as Parramatta host Canterbury at Bankwest Stadium, North Queensland christen their new North Queensland Stadium against arch rivals Brisbane, The Battle of Brookvale between Manly and Melbourne reignites at Lottoland and Penrith host back-to-back champions the Roosters;
- Three Anzac Day games with the Cowboys hosting Canterbury in Townsville in between the traditional Roosters-Dragons and Storm-Warriors matches on Saturday, April 25;
- Eight NRL games in regional areas with Gosford, Sunshine Coast, Tamworth, Wagga Wagga and Bathurst hosting games in 2020;
- A slight reduction in five-day turnarounds, from 26 last year to 25 in 2020;
- The Roosters-Raiders grand final rematch being held in Perth in round 11, while NRL games will once again be held in Darwin, Christchurch and Wellington.
The NRL has again employed Canadian software firm Optimal Planning Solutions to crunch the numbers using its 48-core computers – which boast roughly 24 times the processing power of a standard laptop.
Greenberg pointed to the unprecedented logistical hurdles posed by Sydney's stadium upgrades in delivering next year's NRL draw.
"We are proud of this schedule," Greenberg said.
"It’s a win for our fans and a win for our players while still providing our broadcast partners, who invest so much into our game, with gripping content.
"Five-day turnarounds are down, more big matches will be played during the day and on weekends, and more parts of the country can see our great game live than ever before.
"This year has been our most challenging year. ANZ Stadium goes offline midway through the season, Shark Park is offline all season and Allianz Stadium is offline for the second year in a row, while the SCG has multiple tenants.
"That leaves limited venues and limited dates to make a schedule work. In all, 314 dates were blocked out for season 2020.
"Amongst all that there are 125 trillion game combinations when you consider home and away, venues, game options, timeslots, broadcaster picks, days of the week and club requests.
"On top of that we need to land on a schedule which aligns with our broadcast partners, who deliver so much for the game, but also ensures a draw that is fair for all clubs, their fans and fits in with venue availability.
"The [Optimal Planning Solutions] program delivered more than 2000 schedules, which was then reduced to 150 that was tested against our key criteria, and then reduced to 15 for full review."