NRL press ahead with pre-season comp

The NRL is to press ahead with plans for a money-spinning pre-season tournament after announcing two rounds of fixtures to start the year.

The 18-team competition will include Super League champions St Helens, with the Saints to face off against Penrith in the World Cup Challenge on February 18.

The English club will also feature in a match against St George Illawarra in Wollongong on February 11, with the vast majority of the pre-season games to be played outside Sydney.

The NRL are still finalising their plans for the competition, but the tournament is flagged to include individual and team prize money.

For instance, players could be awarded prizes for the most metres or tries across the two rounds, while clubs could secure cash for wins.

The competition will begin in Auckland when the Warriors take on Wests Tigers, with the All Stars to follow further south in Rotorua the next day.

The Dolphins will play their first match on February 12 in Cairns against North Queensland, in what are likely to be difficult late-summer conditions.

The 17th franchise will play their first match at home at Moreton Daily Stadium in Redcliffe on February 19 against Gold Coast.

Matches will also be played on the Central Coast, Wollongong, further down the South Coast, Geelong, Sunshine Coast, Mudgee and Christchurch.

The players' union indicated their objection to a pre-season competition as recently as this week, citing concerns over player workload after the World Cup.

But the two-week window means players will not be asked to play more matches than is traditionally the case in the pre-season.