NRL draw launch underwhelms amid talks

The NRL's immediate challenges have been laid bare with the most understated season draw announcement in memory.

The league confirmed its fixtures for 2023 on Thursday, with the biggest issue centring around the movement of 15 games due to the home FIFA Women's World Cup.

Those matches will be played mostly at regional and suburban venues through July and August, while two games in Melbourne still have venue TBC marked.

On the face of it, Thursday's draw announcement should have been a celebration.

The league is heading into its longest-ever season next year with 27 rounds, while the launch of the Dolphins as a 17th franchise makes for a 204-game regular season.

Parramatta will kick it off by hosting Melbourne on March 2, while the Eels face defending premiers Penrith in a grand final rematch three weeks later.

For the first time since 2019 the NRL should be able to prepare without COVID-19 being a major issue, with mandatory isolation a thing of the past.

But there was no fanfare whatsoever on Thursday.

The NRL did not stage a launch event, with the season schedule released via an online drop.

Nor did NRL CEO Andrew Abdo front to discuss the draw with media present at NRL HQ, as overdue pay negotiations with players and clubs continue to dominate headlines.

There was also no NRLW draw release, with no collective bargaining agreement outlining season length and structure yet agreed by head office and the players' union.

AAP has been told basic financial issues for the NRLW have been sorted with a significant rise in the salary cap from $350,000 to $800,000 expected.

When NRL action finally does begin in 2023, there will be a two-week pre-season tournament also involving England champions St Helens from February 9.

Each team will receive three byes in the regular season, with more games moved to Sunday nights from the Friday 6pm timeslot after State of Origin games.

But the most notable factor is issues caused by the FIFA Women's World Cup.

With several major stadiums out of action for up to two months, Melbourne's games against Penrith and Parramatta, in rounds 18 and 22 respectively, are currently marked as TBA.

The most likely result is that the fixtures will be moved to Marvel Stadium, but that would depend on clashes with the AFL who own the ground.

Brisbane will play three games at the Gabba, the Sydney Roosters two at the SCG and a double-header will be held in Perth with the Dolphins playing Newcastle and South Sydney facing Cronulla.

Canterbury will play at Belmore and Bundaberg, Souths at the Sunshine Coast and Cairns while Wests Tigers head to Tamworth.

The Tigers will also be the only team to take a home game to New Zealand, after three years of suggestions more would do so.

Elsewhere, the Knights are confirmed as being the team to miss out on Magic Round after copping the bye.

Brisbane and Manly have been handed the hardest draws, while Canberra and Cronulla are the on-field winners.

"We have a lot to look forward to in season 2023," Abdo said in a written statement.

"More matches, more rounds and more rivalries.

"It all starts with a new 18-team pre-season competition in February and we are also working towards a dedicated window of International Rugby League in October."