The 2017 NRL Draw was released this morning, throwing up a lot of scintillating clashes across the season. From old rivalries to personal grudges, here are the top ten clashes of next season revealed.
Round 1: South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Wests Tigers
Friday, March 3rd, 8:05pm, ANZ Stadium
Rugby league fans won’t have to wait long to see Robbie Farah take on former coach Jason Taylor, with the feud set to come to head when the two teams meet. Both clubs missed out on the top eight in 2016, with the new season delivering fresh hopes of a finals berth to both club’s fans. While South Sydney’s recruitment of Robbie Farah along with a roster overhaul promises to resurrect the side that won a premiership two seasons ago, while the development of young trio Luke Brooks, Mitchell Moses and James Tedesco, as well as the return of Jamal Idris, will have Tiger’s fans excited ahead of their 2017 prospects.
Round 2: Brisbane Broncos vs North Queensland Cowboys
Friday, March 10th, 8:05pm, Suncorp Stadium
It’s been the best rivalry over the last few seasons, and the clash between these two Queensland clubs shouldn’t be any less gripping. The teams last met in the second week of the finals in 2016, the match ending after ten minutes of extra time. Funnily enough, the Cowboy’s six-point victory was the biggest winning margin between the sides in their last five clashes. Both sides begin 2017 following monumental losses to their forward pack, with North Queensland losing James Tamou to Penrith, while Brisbane loses their captain Corey Parker following his retirement. Whether the clash can live up to its predecessors is yet to be seen, but with the likes of Jonathan Thurston, Darius Boyd, Anthony Milford and Jason Taumalolo taking the pitch, there’s a high chance of it.
Round 3: Gold Coast Titans vs Parramatta Eels
Friday, March 17th, 8:05pm, Cbus Super Stadium
The Gold Coast Titans and Parramatta both proved in 2016 that they were clubs firmly on the up, despite the drama surrounding both clubs. Over the last six seasons, three of the wooden spoons lie between these clubs. But even more interesting than on-field results is a man that goes by the name of Jarryd Hayne. Parramatta’s prodigal son departed the Eels at the end of 2014 to pursue an opportunity in the NFL, promising that if he ever returned to the NRL that it’d be with his former club. Hayne broke his promise, signing on with the Titans at the backend of the 2016 season. This match will see Hayne take on his former club as well as his successor Bevan French in a match that could have massive ramifications on where each side finishes in 2017.
Round 4: South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Sydney Roosters
Thursday, March 23rd, 8:05pm, ANZ Stadium
The oldest rivalry in rugby league will reignite in round 4, with both foundation clubs tipped to regain their form following sudden falls on the ladder in 2016. Both teams have also revitalised their rosters. South Sydney have added Robbie Farah, while the Roosters have pinched premiership winning five-eighth Luke Keary from their rivals. South Sydney have won the first clash of the season between the pair for four consecutive seasons, with the club switch of Luke Keary only added motivation to continue their streak. No matter who wins the clash, it’ll make for a bitter rematch later in the season in round 18.
Round 6: Melbourne Storm vs Cronulla Sharks
Sunday, April 9th, 4pm, AAMI Park
If there’s one game that brings in the viewers every year, it’s the grand final rematch. For one side, it’s the chance to truly assert their dominance over a side that they beat in the last game of the season the previous year, while for other team it’s the chance to inflict just a little bit of revenge on the side who ended their last season in disappointment. Over the past decade, the grand final rematch has seen an even split of the results – over the ten matches, the premiers have emerged victorious five times, and left the stadium with the loss on the other five times. With both Cronulla and Melbourne losing key players, this match-up should have fans glued to their seats.
Round 7: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
Friday, April 14th, 4pm, ANZ Stadium
These two teams have created some of the feistiest clashes over the last few years, with the annual Good Friday clash one of the most anticipated games of the year. Last year’s Good Friday match saw the Bulldogs walk away 42-12 winners against an injury-ravaged Rabbitohs outfit, but the final game of the regular season saw the Rabbitohs strike back with a 28-10 victory, the game marking the first rematch between Englishman Sam Burgess and James Graham since the 2014 Grand Final. With both clubs possessing some of the biggest forward packs in the competition, it should make for a tough battle between the sides as they look to once again claim victory over their Sydney rivals.
Round 7: Manly Sea Eagles vs Melbourne Storm
Saturday, April 15th, 3pm, Brookvale Oval
Manly have fallen in the past few seasons, but if there’s one clash that the team gets up for each season, it’s their clash against Melbourne. The two teams clashed in three straight grand finals between 2007 and 2009, and the bitter rivalry still stands strong. To add salt into the wounds, Manly have snagged Melbourne five-eighth Blake Green, who’ll combine with Daly Cherry-Evans in the task of lifting the Sea Eagles back to their glory days. The Storm are coming off a minor premiership win, while Manly finished the 2016 season in a lowly 13th place. But as long as the fans of the teams still have bitter feelings towards one another, the clash will be another on to remember.
Round 14: Penrith Panthers vs Canberra Raiders
Saturday, June 10th, 5:30pm, Carrington Park
Two of the biggest contenders of 2017 will meet up in round 14 at the neutral Carrington Park in Bathurst, with both sides carrying big wraps following a season where both teams exceeded expectations. For the Raiders, it was a case of so close, so far in 2016, falling just 80 minutes of a grand final berth. While they were quiet on the recruitment front, another season building combinations should leave Canberra as one of the premier teams in 2017. Meanwhile, the Penrith Panthers have added international James Tamou, though the biggest focus for Penrith will be keeping the squad on the park, and away from the injury award. If both teams can produce full strength teams, this should prove to be one of the best matches of the season.
Round 14: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs vs St George Illawarra Dragons
Monday, June 12th, 4pm, ANZ Stadium
While neither of these clubs is expected to do big things in 2017, their rivalry remains strong. The Bulldogs came out victorious in both of the clashes in 2016, with the two encounters producing fiery matches ending in a deal of controversy. After finishing with the second-worst attack of the competition, a change of spine for the Dragons could change their fortunes ahead of the new season. While the Bulldogs of 2016 made the finals, four straight losses to end the season have Dog’s fans calling for Des Hasler’s sacking. With both team’s head coaches skating on thin ice, it should make for a crucial clash.
Round 26: Sydney Roosters vs Gold Coast Titans
TBC, Allianz Stadium
These teams don’t exactly hold any bad blood between them, but this clash in the final round of the season could be as intense as they come. Both tipped to force their way into the top 8 in 2017, this clash could determine whether one team or the other makes the cut, as well as deciding other team’s fate at the same time. The game pits the likes of superstars Jarryd Hayne and Ryan James against Mitchell Pearce and Boyd Cordner in a match that could have massive ramifications on the 2017 NRL Finals.