NRL fans divided over 'strange' detail as Week 1 finals schedule announced

The NRL has moved away from tradition in scheduling the Panthers and Warriors clash for the finals.

The Panthers, Warriors and Broncos in the NRL.
The Panthers will play the Warriors on Saturday afternoon, while the Broncos will face the Storm on Friday night in the NRL finals. Image: Getty

The NRL has done away with tradition in a brilliant move that ensures Warriors fans can watch their side in action against the Panthers in the first week of the finals. The NRL traditionally schedules the 1st v 4th game as the first match of the finals series - putting it in prime time on Friday night.

But a 7.50pm start for the Panthers and Warriors would have meant fans in New Zealand wouldn't see the game until 9.50pm their time - meaning it would finish around midnight. Instead, the NRL has put the Panthers-Warriors game at 4pm on Saturday afternoon (6pm in New Zealand).

FLOPS AND SHOCKS: Where your NRL team went wrong in 2023

NOT GOOD: Souths coach's confession after embarrassing history

The Broncos and Storm (2 v 3) will instead play on Friday night in a rematch of their encounter from round 27. It marks the first time since 2019 that the 1 v 4 game hasn't been played as the first game of the finals.

The NRL could have easily struck with tradition and dudded fans in New Zealand. But considering the Warriors didn't play a single game at home for two years during the Covid pandemic, the slight change is the least the NRL could do. While some fans felt it looked 'strange' that the Panthers and Warriors had effectively been relegated to 4pm on Saturday, others felt it made complete sense considering everything the Warriors have done for the game over the last few years.

NRL's eight finalists locked in

The first week of the finals has a master v apprentice feel about it, with Newcastle to take on the Raiders and the Sharks battling the Roosters. Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon is relishing testing himself against former long-term mentor Trent Robinson.

"It is a good opportunity for us and our club," said Fitzgibbon, who worked under Robinson for more than a decade at the Roosters. "Any semi that you play is a privilege because you earned the right through a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifices from staff and players.

"So any one of them is a privilege, irrespective of who you're playing. All that stuff (with Robinson) will heat up later in the week."

The Penrith Panthers, pictured here with the JJ Giltinan Shield for winning the minor premiership. (Photo by Izhar Khan/Getty Images)
The Penrith Panthers won the JJ Giltinan Shield as minor premiers. (Photo by Izhar Khan/Getty Images)

Broncos coach Kevin Walters was also on Storm mentor Craig Bellamy's staff for a number years. He will be seeking revenge against Bellamy and Melbourne on Friday after the Storm prevented the Broncos from claiming the minor premiership in the final round of the season.

Eighth-placed Canberra face the trickiest task of the finals, heading to Newcastle to face a Knights side on Sunday who haven't lost at McDonald Jones Stadium since April. The Raiders have won just two of their last seven games and on top of having a depleted forward pack, Sebastian Kris is facing a lengthy suspension after being sent off for a spear tackle against the Sharks.

Reads 'NRL Finals 2023' with the cut out images of three players throwing a football - Cameron Munster, Nathan Cleary and Reece Walsh, with a backdrop of a football stadium.
Discover more of our NRL Finals coverage.

"I don't know if anyone knows we're in the finals," Canberra coach Ricky Stuart said after their loss to Cronulla on Sunday. "I'm so proud of these blokes, they've exceeded all (external) expectations.

"Good on (Knights coach) Adam O'Brien, he was getting sacked three months ago. He's turned it around and shoved it up all those people."

NRL Week 1 finals schedule:

(2) Brisbane Broncos v (3) Melbourne Storm - Friday 7.50pm, Suncorp Stadium

(1) Penrith Panthers v (4) Warriors - Saturday 4.05pm, BlueBet Stadium

(6) Cronulla Sharks v (7) Sydney Roosters - Saturday 7.50pm, PointsBet Stadium

(5) Newcastle Knights v (8) Canberra Raiders - Sunday 4.05pm, McDonald Jones Stadium

with AAP

Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.