Manly, Parramatta and South Sydney have landed a handy 2009 draw while the improving Newcastle Knights luck out in the latest NRL releasedÂ fixtures for the 2009 season.
Manly get a very favourable draw early, with a game against theÂ New Zealand Warriors their only face off within 8 rounds against a Top 8 side from this year.
Manly actually face less Top 8 sides than any other team next year; a real bonus for the high flying side.
In Round 8 next year, Manly with square off in the Grand Final rematch against the Storm.
Parramatta also fare well, the Eels the only side to play Storm or Manly once during 2009, on the flip side – the Sydney Roosters, Wests Tigers and Newcastle – draw poorly, these sides the only in the comp to have to play both the Storm and Manly twice in during the season.
Souths’Â are another team to fare well, they will be theÂ lucky side to face only 5 of the 2008 Top 8Â teams next year.
The Knights’Â copped some shortÂ straws, the Newcastle sideÂ drawing their first three games away.
For the Brisbane Broncos, North Queensland, Roosters and Storm they will all receive both of their byes before Origin games,Â but theÂ Knights will have to stand down any of their rep players before Origin I and III.
New St George Illawarra coach Wayne Bennett will return to Suncorp Stadium to face former club Brisbane in round four, the Dragons also facing a daunting first-up assignment in Melbourne against the Storm.
The Broncos, meanwhile, kick-off their new era under Ivan Henjak at home to North Queensland.
“I usually look at the teams we don’t have to play away, I see we don’t have to play Manly at Brookvale because that’s usually a tough assignment so that’s one plus,” Broncos skipper Darren Lockyer said today.
“You tend to look at your first month of footy and we’ve got three home games.
“Admittedly we’ve got the Storm at home and we’ve got Benny (Bennett) coming back in round four with the Dragons.”
Asked about life without Bennett, Lockyer said: “I think that Wayne’s departure won’t really sink in until we turn up to pre-season training and he’s not there.
“Ivan’s seen Wayne and how he’s coached the team and he knows the culture up there so I think, had there been a coach from another club come in, it might have been a bit more difficult but I’m really confident Ivan’s going to do a great job.”
It will be a case of deja vu for South Sydney half Craig Wing with the Rabbitohs again to face arch-rivals the Roosters in round one.
Wing lasted just eight minutes in the corresponding match this year before a dislocated shoulder all but ruined his return to the Bunnies.
“Right through my career it’s always been a game I’ve looked forward to, a local derby against the team next door so hopefully I can play a few more minutes than I did last year,” Wing said.
“It was really heartbreaking … you train three or four months in the off-season to get yourself to peak condition for that first game and I got injured with my very first touch of the ball and you lose all that fitness, you go right back to square one.”
Other new features in the draw include the mid-season Australia-New Zealand Test being played in Brisbane on May 8 on the same night City take on Country at a venue in regional NSW.
State Of Origin I will be played in Melbourne before the series heads to Sydney and Brisbane.