The Knights and Raiders will play the first Thursday night game of the 2024 season despite Channel 9 reportedly asking the NRL for a last-minute draw change. It was first reported by News Corp last week that Nine had voiced concerns with the NRL about the prospect of Newcastle and Canberra playing the Thursday night game, with the free-to-air broadcast partner seeking a switch to a more TV-friendly fixture.
Nine reportedly requested the match be changed to Canterbury v Parramatta. The Round 1 Thursday night clash will be the first game of the season on home soil, with the opening two fixtures to be played in Las Vegas.
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The full draw for the season was announced on Monday, with the season kick-starting with the Las Vegas experiment. The Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs will play on Sunday March 3 in Vegas (Aussie time), before the Roosters and Broncos.
However plans for the Thursday night fixture sparked some drama, with The Canberra Times reporting that the NRL was expected to listen to Channel 9’s request and switch the fixture last minute. A meeting between Canberra and NRL officials was hastily scheduled, with News Corp reporting the Raiders were one of several clubs meeting with the NRL as a result of the uncertainty surrounding the draw.
The draw was meant to remain confidential before it was signed off by the game's major stakeholders. The fact Round 1's fixture list was leaked last week infuriated the NRL, according to leading journo Brent Read.
“We have to be a bit careful because this is only a draft draw,” Read said on Triple M on Thursday afternoon. “I don’t think it was meant to come out into the public domain yet, and the NRL had arranged meetings with a lot of clubs today and tomorrow to go through their home games with them.
“My understanding is those meetings for today have now been cancelled and pushed back to tomorrow, so don’t be surprised if there are some late changes to this draw because the NRL aren’t happy it got out.”
Despite the last-minute drama, the Raiders and Knights will remain in the Thursday night slot after all. The Storm and Panthers are the first Friday night game on Nine, while the Eels and Bulldogs will play on Saturday at 5.30pm instead.
NRLW competition won't expand in 2024
Officials have also kept the NRLW competition at 10 teams after expanding in 2023. The league wrote to the seven clubs without NRLW sides late last season to ask for a timeframe where they feel they would be ready to enter the competition.
It was suggested that the women's competition would soon expand to 12 teams in 2024, but the NRL decided against the expansion in 2024, with the extra sides expected to join the following year. There have been concerns from players and coaches about expanding too early, particularly considering at least 60 per cent of players are already signed to deals for next year.
According to AAP, plans are in place to increase the talent pool for further expansion in 2025. The NSW Rugby League is poised to move their women's premiership into the NRLW window next year, creating a proper reserve-grade competition.
A full Under-17s competition will also be introduced in the Lisa Fiaola Cup, mirroring the men's pathways for teenage competitions. NRLW players will likely be given the chance to play in a NSWRL pre-season club competition prior to the Origin series, while Queensland's State Cup will still operate over the first half of the year.
Key dates for 2024 NRL season:
March 2: Las Vegas season opener (Manly v South Sydney and Sydney Roosters v Brisbane)
March 21: Penrith v Brisbane (grand-final rematch in round three)
May 16: Women's State of Origin I, Suncorp Stadium
May 17-19: Magic Round, Suncorp Stadium
June 5: Men's State of Origin I, Accor Stadium
June 6: Women's State of Origin II, Newcastle
June 26: Men's State of Origin II, MCG
June 27: Women's State of Origin III, Townsville
July 17: Men's State of Origin III, Suncorp Stadium
October 6: NRL and NRLW grand finals
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