The NRL have managed to release a relatively even draw for 2019, with no teams unnecessarily disadvantaged and a number of tantalising matches spread through the year. Apart from the traditional rivalries that we look forward to every year (mainly the Sydney derbies) and some more recent ones like the Sea Eagles and Storm, the clashes between sides that have changed coaches will add extra subtext.
Assuming that the much rumoured transfer of Ivan Cleary to Penrith comes off, replaced by Michael Maguire to Wests Tigers, the early clashes between these two in rounds four and 9 will be huge matches.
Given that it is all but a done deal that Wayne Bennett and Anthony Siebold will swap clubs in 2020, and probably for 2019, the Rabbitohs and Broncos matches will also be big games in rounds 8 and 23. Des Hasler, who has just been appointed head coach at Manly for a second stint, left the Bulldogs on bad terms and spent most of last year in a legal struggle with the club. This will make the Sea Eagles-Bulldogs games extra spicy as well in rounds 18 and 22.
The draw will again include a standalone representative weekend for the middle Origin round (June 23), with the potential for internationals to be played that week as well. That Origin clash will also be the first played in Perth, with the new Optus Stadium hosting the game.
On Easter Monday the new Western Sydney Stadium will see its first game when Parramatta play Wests Tigers in a Western Sydney derby in round 6. The stadium will then become Parramatta’s home ground.
Round 9 will be played entirely at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane as the “Magic Round”. This will see 8 matches spread between May 9 and 12, with double headers on Friday and Sunday and triple header on Saturday. The Broncos will play the second Friday night game against Manly, so it will be interesting to see if the rest of the round attracts much interest in Brisbane.