When the 2023 NRL Telstra Premiership draw is released later this week, football staff from the NRL’s 17 clubs will examine it through a very different lens than the rest of the rugby league world.
Away from the rivalry games, themed rounds and what the home-game blockbusters are, football departments across the board will be eager to find out the nuts-and-bolts of their schedule, which will go a long way to deciding how they structure their season.
For Storm guru Frank Ponissi, that starts with identifying any long stretches at or away from home, with his preference being a fixture list that allows for a routine of home one week, away the next.
“We look at how close it is to a pure home-and-away weekly format, which is impossible to get these days, but the closer you get to it the better,” Ponissi told NRL.com.
“Last year from round 19-25 we had five away games and two at home, which is not ideal, but at the beginning of the season it was the other way around.
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“Another big one we look at is the turnaround between games.
“The ideal scenario is seven-day turnarounds, but we understand that is impossible, so there are stages through the year when we are going to get some six and five-day turnarounds, while on the other side you can have eight, nine or even 10-day turnarounds if you play on a Thursday.
“That really impacts how you plan your season, when you give players time off and your training loads.”
Every club has its own unique wants and needs when it comes to the schedule, with geographical factors, squad makeup and the ethos of those in charge dictating what makes a good draw in their eyes.
On the other side of what Ponissi and the Storm will be looking for in this draw sits the wish list of Warriors CEO Cameron George.
With the club having played just four games in Auckland in the past three seasons, and coming off a 15th placed finish last year, George views an early run of games on Kiwi soil as important.
Given our circumstances the last couple of years, we are keen to see if we can get some momentum early in the season at home.Cameron George Warriors CEO
“We haven’t played much footy here, so interested to see what that looks like.
“We have that unique draw process compared to other clubs.
"It’s more about that than who we play.”
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Along with the Warriors, North Queensland face the biggest travel toll in the competition, and Cowboys CEO Jeff Reibel told NRL.com that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, turnarounds after away games have become even more important for his club.
"Post-COVID what we have found with flights and things like that is that this year if we played a game in Sydney on Saturday night, we weren't getting back to Townsville until about 5pm on Sunday," Reibel said.
"So we'd lose an extra day every away game."
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For clubs like the Storm and Cowboys - who will likely have several key players involved in the 2023 Ampol State of Origin Series - the representative period adds another layer of complexity when it comes to roster management and logistics.
While identifying who you play over that period and how many star players your opposition might be without, the other key factor is looking at where you have to travel for games post Origin, and it plays a big part in deciding whether a player backs up or is given the weekend off club duty.
"The representative period and the toughness and speed of those games comes into our thinking... travel would [also] be one element the coach would think about," Reibel added.
We just have to make sure we have got our planning right in that respect.North Queensland Cowboys CEO Jeff Reibel
"We did have some byes last year which worked out quite well for us."
As for the actual opponents listed on the draw, Ponissi said it carried little weight at the time of the draw being announced in most cases, with a team's prospects in November likely to be different to the reality you face it comes time to play them.
"Last year was the perfect example. The Cowboys in 2021 finished 15th and many tipped them to be there against last year, but they ended up at the other end of the table," Ponissi said.
"Others can be a little clearer - if you play Penrith you know they are going to be strong, the Roosters too - but some clubs you just don’t know."