With the big kick-off to the 2013 NRL season just a week away, the NRL’s director of football operations Nathan McGuirk is already planning ahead for the 2014 draw.
The new billion dollar broadcast deal will see action five nights a week for the first four rounds of the season with games being played on Thursday night – starting with Sydney Roosters hosting South Sydney at Allianz Stadium on March 7.
This is in addition to the dates of the first 20 rounds being fixed for the first time.
McGuirk admits it was a tough task juggling logistical issues and demands from the clubs, the Nine Network and Fox Sports, but is confident the format will work.
“It’s our biggest task and this year there was a whole new level of complexity with the rounds being fixed,” McGuirk said.
“We have to take into account stadium availability for multi-use venues, the needs of our broadcast partners and certain requests from clubs.
“We then use a computer software program designed by a Canadian company called Optimal Planning, which is also used by the NFL and that creates the draw.
“We are at the early stages of looking to next year already.”
The new-look format has presented Melbourne with three games in 12 days in their opening three rounds as they begin their premiership defence at home to St George Illawarra on Sunday March 10.
Craig Bellamy’s side then travel to Townsville to face North Queensland six days later, then have a five-day turnaround before a grand final rematch against Canterbury at AAMI Park.
McGuirk admits it’s a tough start, but insists the schedule will even itself out across the year.
“We have always maintained that a five-day turnaround is the minimum we give clubs,” he said.
“It would simply not be possible to for clubs to play Monday then Thursday for example.
“The draw is not given to the clubs for approval, but we look to accommodate requests to play certain teams and certain times so they maximise their commercial revenue.”
McGuirk denied the draw follows the lines of the NFL model, where successful teams’ receive a more difficult-looking draw the following year.
This is despite minor premiers Canterbury having to face 2012 top-five finishers the Cowboys, Melbourne, South Sydney and Manly in their first five games.
And in round six they’ll face a new-look Sydney Roosters side complete with new signings Michael Jennings and Sonny Bill Williams.
Conversely, The Roosters, who finished 13th last year face the Warriors, Parramatta, Canberra and Brisbane before taking on the Bulldogs.
“We cannot work out the draw in that manner, there are just too many logistical hurdles,” McGuirk said.
“We can’t predict when we start planning the draw, how strong or weak a team’s roster will be when the new season starts.
“The competition is so strong, teams often finish poorly one year and then make the top four the next.
“It’s not something we’ve ever tried to do.”