The NRL has been compelled to modify its round one schedule for the 2024 season due to objections raised by Channel Nine, its broadcast partner. The leaked preliminary schedule, which was set to be officially announced on Monday, was met with disappointment by key stakeholders. Executives from Channel Nine expressed their displeasure specifically regarding the Newcastle Knights and Canberra Raiders match, originally slated for Thursday night on free-to-air TV.
The decision to rearrange the round one fixtures comes after a high-profile double-header event in Las Vegas the previous week. In response to Channel Nine's concerns, the NRL is considering moving the Parramatta vs. Bulldogs clash from Saturday to Thursday night, while keeping the match-ups unchanged. This move aims to address the broadcast partner's discontent and ensure a satisfactory schedule for all parties involved.
However, there are additional complications that the NRL must take into account. An A-League fixture between the Western Sydney Wanderers and Western United is scheduled for Friday, March 8, at CommBank Stadium. There are concerns about the condition of the pitch for this soccer match, as it will take place just 24 hours after a rugby league game. Furthermore, Accor Stadium, the Bulldogs' home ground, is unavailable due to concerts, adding further complexities to the schedule rearrangement.
Amongst the changes, the Wests Tigers will have to wait for the beginning of the Benji Marshall era, as they are slated for a bye in the opening round. On the other hand, the defending champions, Penrith Panthers, are expected to kick off their title defense against Melbourne Storm, following a potential World Club Challenge campaign against Super League champions Wigan Warriors.
Despite the alterations, certain fixtures are likely to remain unaltered to maintain consistency. The highly anticipated match between Penrith and Melbourne, originally scheduled to be the main game on Channel Nine on Friday night, is unlikely to change. Furthermore, the beginning of Shane Flanagan's tenure as coach for the Dragons will start with an away game against Des Hasler's Gold Coast Titans in Queensland.
The round will be extended to span two weeks, commencing with South Sydney vs. Manly and Brisbane vs. Sydney Roosters in Las Vegas on March 2 (March 3 in Australia). To ensure fairness and balance, the four teams participating in the Las Vegas event will face each other again in the first three rounds. These adjustments aim to address the concerns raised by Channel Nine and maintain an equitable schedule for all teams involved in the NRL's round one.