NRL 2023: Sharks handed soft NRL draw as spotlight shines on the Rabbitohs

The Sharks have been handed the softest draw for the 2024 season, with Cronulla set to play eight games against this year’s bottom four sides while they’ll also play the fewest matches against top eight teams.

It’s a dream scenario for the Sharks who only have nine games against teams that played finals footy in 2023, with Craig Fitzgibbon’s men set to avoid the top teams from rounds 15-23.

The ease of the draw can be deceptive given some teams exceed expectations while others flounder, but there’s no denying the Sharks have done well with two matches against bottom four sides in the first three weeks.

It’s a different story for the Storm who have 12 matches against top eight teams, with six of those against sides who joined them in the top four.

The Panthers face a stern test of their premiership credentials, with the Storm, Eels, Broncos and Roosters waiting for them in the opening month. The three-time champs also set to face three teams coming off the bye next season.

The Wests Tigers have fared pretty well compared with the other bottom teams. The wooden-spooners are only set to play four games against this year’s top four, although they are one of six teams to have three five-day turnarounds.

There will be nowhere for the Rabbitohs to hide in 2024, with South Sydney set to have 14 matches on free to air, one more than the Panthers and Broncos.

It was a horror finish to the year for Souths who were on top of the table after 11 rounds but imploded to miss the finals.

The Warriors (four games) and Canberra (seven) are the only top eight teams from this year not to have at least 10 games on free to air, with Parramatta one of five bottom-nine teams to crack double digits.

The NRLW season kicks off with a blockbuster in Newcastle between the Knights and the Roosters on July 25, with the home side on the verge of a dynasty having won the past two titles.

There will be five stand-alone NRLW double-headers, with 16 matches either played before or after NRL games, with that number likely to increase in the final few rounds when the men’s finals series begins.

Originally published as NRL draw: Sharks big winners, Warriors snubbed in free-to-air games