One of the most incredible sporting streaks is in jeopardy as Melbourne Storm put 23 years of NRL history on the line when they host the Panthers in Round 1. Under Craig Bellamy the Storm have never lost their first match of the season, unbeaten since the Melbourne coach took over in 2003.
Their last Round 1 loss was way back in 2001. This season the record was seriously threatened with the Eels taking them all the way to golden point before Harry Grant scored a try to win the game.
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The Panthers have won three premierships in a row and will go into the clash with the Storm as clear favourites. They have also beaten Melbourne on five of the past six occasions, including all three times in 2023 and most recently a 38-4 demolition in the preliminary final. The Storm will be hoping the Panthers come back a bit dusty from the World Club Challenge in England and can extend the incredible record.
It isn't the only fixture that has thrown the Storm a few curveballs for 2024, with their annual Anzac Day clash with the Warriors scrapped for just the third time since 2009. Instead, Melbourne will host the Rabbitohs.
The Storm have received one of the toughest opening draws, in what could be Bellamy's last year in charge. In the opening eight rounds, Melbourne only play one team who finished outside the bottom nine last year. They also must cop all other teams from last season's top four twice.
Winners and losers of 2024 NRL draw
Cronulla have emerged as the biggest winners of the NRL's 2024 draw, handed what is theoretically the easiest schedule of all 17 clubs. The NRL announced its 2024 fixtures on Monday, heralding a new era for the game with Manly and South Sydney kicking off in a Las Vegas double-header on March 2.
Matches will also be played in Christchurch, Bundaberg and Darwin, while the Perth double-header has become a single fixture after the Rabbitohs pulled out. The grand final will be held on October 6, with the event to again include deciders for both the men's and women's competitions.
The series opener will be played at Suncorp Stadium on May 16 as the Thursday fixture in Magic Round, before games in Newcastle and Townsville on June 6 and June 20 respectively.
The Warriors will also host a game on Anzac Day in New Zealand for the first time since 2015, with Gold Coast to travel to Auckland and South Sydney to take Andrew Webster's team's spot at AAMI Park against Melbourne.
But it is the Sharks who should walk away from Monday the happiest, after bowing out of the first week of the finals this year. Craig Fitzgibbon's men only have nine games against 2023's top-eight teams, the lowest of any club in the draw.
They also only play the Warriors twice out of last season's top four, while facing all of the bottom four from 2023 two times. Parramatta and Souths have also been handed a rough path back to the finals after last season's disappointments, with 13 games against the top eight from 2023, with Storm facing the next most treacherous run, playing 12 of a possible 14 games against the 2023 finalists.
Newcastle, meanwhile, have walked away as the biggest winners on the commercial front. On the back of 2023's Kalyn Ponga mania, the Knights have increased from seven free-to-air games last season to 12 in 2024. South Sydney has also ended Brisbane's long-standing run as the game's most watchable team, claiming 14 free-to-air games to Brisbane's 13.
Key dates for 2024 NRL season:
March 2: Las Vegas season opener (Manly v South Sydney, 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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