THE WINNERS AND LOSERS OF THE 2021 NRL DRAW
* Newcastle – The Knights have one of the softer starts to the season, with their first five games coming against sides who didn’t play finals in 2020. They play the grand finalists Penrith and Melbourne just once each and have only two five-day turnarounds.
* Melbourne – The premiers played all but two games away from AAMI Park this year but will kick off the 2021 season in Melbourne against South Sydney. They then have a whopping 15 free-to-air games in what could be a season with or without skipper Cameron Smith.
* Wests Tigers – The Tigers have a tough month to start the season against Canberra, the Sydney Roosters, Newcastle and Parramatta but a relatively soft draw could lead them into the finals for the first time since 2011. Michael Maguire’s men will play just two 2020 top-eight sides in the final eight rounds, as well as Canterbury twice.
* Warriors – The international borders are yet to be opened but the NRL is confident of having the Warriors play 11 games scheduled for Mt Smart Stadium. After a season played entirely away from home in 2020, the respite of playing in Auckland would be a significant boost for the Warriors under new coach Nathan Brown. And should borders open, their first two games will be played at home against Gold Coast and Newcastle.
* Brisbane – New coach Kevin Walters will have his work cut out for him as the Broncos face top four sides Penrith, Parramatta, Melbourne and the Sydney Roosters twice in 2021, as well as finalists South Sydney. But they remain a network cash cow with 15 free-to-air games (the most of any side along with the Eels and the Storm).
* Canterbury – Trent Barrett and his quality signings will need to have a big impact for the Bulldogs who will face six finalists in the opening eight rounds, including Penrith, Melbourne and South Sydney. They have just five free-to-air games – the second fewest behind the Warriors (three).
* Sydney Roosters – They ran out of puff chasing their third straight NRL premiership this season and will face another difficult back-end to the year in 2021. They play Penrith, South Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra twice, but their final two months is the big worry. Over eight weeks they travel to Townsville, Brisbane and Canberra, have two five-day turnarounds and play Parramatta, the Panthers and the Rabbitohs.
* St George Illawarra – The Dragons will play four of last season’s top eight twice, but it’s their run home that will cause the biggest headache. In the last five rounds they play South Sydney twice, Canberra, Penrith and the Sydney Roosters, which will be a big test for new coach Anthony Griffin.