The NRL draw will drop for 2023 in the next couple of weeks, with it being the most challenging fixture list to put together in years.
The addition of the Dolphins, meaning the competition goes to 17 teams with the creation of a bye each week, the likely need for more games during the State of Origin window, the structure of the season, and the fact grounds will be lost to the women's FIFA World Cup for a period during the middle of the season have created more headaches than the NRL can poke a stick at.
The opening round will also create its own additional headache - which team gets the dreaded bye to open their account?
Zero Tackle's predicted fixtures are just that - predicted fixtures. We have no inside knowledge other than the reports of the Dolphins and Roosters to open the season, which would be fitting, particularly if the Arthur Beetson Cup gets formalised to be played between the two sides.
Moving on from that though, and there is much to discuss.
The grand final rematch won't happen in the opening week of the season, so we have given the Panthers a clash against the Brisbane Broncos at home in the prime time game to open their campaign.
The Broncos fell away dismally at the end of the 2022 campaign, and while there are no big movements between the two clubs outside of Zac Hosking, it still seems as if it could be a likely way to start the season, particularly if the Broncos can't play on Thursday thanks to the Dolphins and Roosters.
Parramatta will also get a decent start to their season following the grand final effort, so we have given them a clash against the new-look Canterbury Bulldogs in Round 1 on Saturday at Parramatta, with Reed Mahoney making an instant trip back home.
The Sunday feature game would be a rematch of last year's semi-final encounter between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Cronulla Sharks to be played at Homebush, with the two sides likely to put on a good display to kick-off the season on a Sunday afternoon in Sydney. It doesn't get a great deal better than that.
The other big time game we have appointed in Round 1 is in Townsville, with the Melbourne Storm to make the trip north and open their season against the Cowboys.
The Cowboys were 2022s big surprise packet, and hosted a preliminary final where they were ultimately knocked out by the Parramatta Eels. Giving them a stern test at home against a Storm side who will be bristling from their own shortcomings in 2022 seems an ideal start to the season for a club who love to host games on a Saturday evening and look after their regional fans.
The Warriors should start their season in the Friday 6pm slot, and we have them up against the Canberra Raiders, while the Knights and Tigers are likely to be at similar points of the ladder, as they were in 2022. The added spice to this one of course is that, by the time the first ball is kicked in 2022, Luke Brooks is likely to be wearing red and blue, although no deal has been confirmed.
Of the three teams that are left, the Manly Sea Eagles are coming off a horror end to 2022, but also don't currently have a coach appointed.
They seem to be the ideal candidate for the Round 1 bye at this stage, which leaves the Titans and Dragons to battle things out in the Sunday night game on the Gold Coast.
Predicted Round 1 fixtures for 2023
Thursday, 8:05pm: The Dolphins vs Sydney Roosters at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Friday, 6pm: New Zealand Warriors vs Canberra Raiders at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
Friday, 8:05pm: Penrith Panthers vs Brisbane Broncos at BlueBet Stadium, Penrith
Saturday, 3pm: Newcastle Knights vs Wests Tigers at McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Saturday, 5:30pm: Parramatta Eels vs Canterbury Bulldogs at CommBank Stadium, Parramatta
Saturday, 7:35pm: North Queensland Cowboys vs Melbourne Storm at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
Sunday, 4:05pm: South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Cronulla Sharks at Accor Stadium, Homebush
Sunday, 6:15pm: Gold Coast Titans vs St George Illawarra Dragons at CBus Super Stadium, Gold Coast
Bye: Manly Sea Eagles