Sam Thaiday of the Brisbane Broncos celebrates a try with teammates.
Sam Thaiday of the Brisbane Broncos celebrates a try with teammates. DAN PELED

Broncos the big winners in 2017 NRL draw

RUGBY LEAGUE: The Broncos have been handed the lion's share of prime-time matches on Channel Nine in the first 11 weeks of the 2017 NRL season.

Nine's insistence on getting full bang for its buck with the Broncos' appeal to advertisers means Brisbane plays on a Thursday night or Friday night in 10 of the first 11 rounds.

The NRL has released the first 20 rounds of the 26-round premiership and of its 18 matches (with two byes) Brisbane plays on six Thursday nights, seven Friday nights and five Saturdays in an outcome that infuriated some rivals clubs and their supporters, as it does annually.

NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg defended the fixtures.

"Our broadcast partners pay significant premiums and, rightfully under this model, they have the ability to choose certain games and the Broncos are very valuable for them,” he said. "So we understand that.

"It would be fair to say, if you ask the Broncos, they would like to play more Sunday afternoon football but it's hard to make everyone happy.”

The Broncos open the season away against defending champion Cronulla before their first home game - a derby blockbuster on March 10 against North Queensland.

"We have not had the Cowboys as the first home match of the season since 2014,” Brisbane CEO Paul White said in a statement.

"Considering the fantastic contests we have had over the last year or two, we deemed it imperative to make it our first home game of the 2017 season.

"The first two months of the season will be full of huge blockbusters against top-rated teams, which is a huge win for our members and supporters.”

North Queensland's preference to play home matches on Saturdays has been mostly heeded by the NRL and broadcasters, with only two home matches on Friday nights and none on Thursdays.

Cowboys chief executive Greg Tonner said Saturday matches allowed members and fans from across the club's catchment time to travel.

"The primary geographical range of our membership base is vast so we're acutely aware of the importance of Saturday games,” Tonner said.

Gold Coast has fared better with more free-to-air appearances than last year after making a run to the finals and recruiting Jarryd Hayne.

Hayne's first tilt against Parramatta comes early in the season, in round three at Robina in the later of the Friday's two matches that night.

The first 14 rounds all have two matches on Fridays, with the early game, usually a 6pm kick-off, to be exclusive to Fox Sports and the second, usually 8.05pm, to be telecast by Nine and simulcast on Fox Sports.

NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said there was a reduction in the number of five-day turnarounds between games - from 31 to 19 in the first 20 rounds.

It's a result that more than meets the league's promise to players 12 months ago to reduce the instances of it by 25%.

The 2017 season still includes a May 5 Test for the Kangaroos despite it being a World Cup year.

The Origin games are on May 31 and July 12 in Brisbane and June 21 in Sydney, with the Maroons intent on making the most of having two home matches against the Blues.

Afternoon football makes its first appearance in Townsville in the round 16 clash on June 24 against Penrith, with a 3pm kick-off.

The NRL has scheduled Melbourne's home match against North Queensland, one of its most attractive matches to Queenslanders, in the heart of the representative season on Saturday, June 17.

The Cowboys and Titans both get the first of their byes in round 12, in late May, the weekend before the first Origin match on May 31, and the second in round 18.

As is their preference over recent years, the Broncos will play a match in round 12 without their Origin players, away to the Warriors on May 27, with Brisbane's byes being in round 15, before Origin II, and 18.

In their first 18 matches, Gold Coast plays four times on Friday nights, with matches at home against Parramatta (round three), away against Brisbane (round seven), at home to Souths (round 15) and away to Wests Tigers in round 16.

with NEWS CORP

GAMES NOT TO BE MISSED

Rabbitohs v Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium, round one, Friday, March 3

Sharks v Storm at AAMI Park, round six, Sunday, April 9

Titans v Eels at ANZ Stadium, round 24

Broncos v Cowboys at Suncorp Stadium, round two, Friday, March 10

Broncos v Titans at Suncorp Stadium, round seven, Friday, April 14

Rabbitohs v Roosters at ANZ Stadium, round four, Thursday, March 23

Bulldogs v Storm at Belmore Sports Ground, round one, Friday, March 3



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