The Broncos' bid to climb off the foot of the ladder won't be easy with the club handed arguably the toughest draw of any team for the 2021 Telstra Premiership season.
According to an analysis of the draw based solely on the strength of opponents, the Broncos face the trickiest fixture list of all with a pair of 2021 games against seven of the eight finalists from the 2020 season.
That means 15 of their 24 games will be against teams that finished in the top eight this year.
By comparison, the average team will play 12 games against this year's finalists, while the Knights are only scheduled to play 10 games against 2020 top-eight teams next season.
The return of a 25-round draw with one bye means each club will play nine teams twice and six teams once before the 2021 finals series kicks off.
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The Broncos scheduled for a series of blockbusters against premiership contenders despite their lowly finish to the recently-completed season.
Meanwhile, it's promising news for rising clubs the Knights and Titans, who have the "easiest" fixture lists according to our analysis.
Before getting into the details, here's how we rank each club's draw from "easiest" to "hardest" – keeping in mind there is truly no "easy" schedule in the NRL.
To come up with this list we gave every opponent a rating between 1 (for last year's wooden spooners Brisbane) to 16 (for reigning premiers Melbourne). We then added up the total score for each club's fixture list across the season to come up with their "draw toughness score".
Of course, other factors play a part in how difficult a fixture list can be – from travel to the State of Origin period to the amount of time between matches.
For example, while the Storm, Raiders and Warriors each have three five-day turnarounds this season, four other clubs (the Bulldogs, Eels, Sharks and Tigers) have none. The Bulldogs have the most turnarounds of seven days or more (18), while the Roosters have the fewest (12).
The strength of each opponent also obviously changes year-to-year, with some bottom-eight clubs from 2020 likely to be challenging for finals spots in 2021. In 2019 the Panthers were a bottom-eight side while the Broncos played finals football, and just a year later they finished in first and 16th place respectively.
But this simple snapshot can be a helpful guide for determining which teams may have a leg up when it comes to clinching a spot in the top eight.
Last year when the revised draw was released during the COVID-19 break ahead of round three, we ranked Cronulla as having the most fortunate draw in the league – and by the end of the season they reached the finals despite not beating a single top-eight team all season.
But while an "easy" draw may help a club's finish in the regular season, there's an argument that being tested against the best more frequently comes in handy by finals time – meaning the likes of the Storm, Roosters and Raiders could find themselves more battle-hardened at the business end of the season.
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- Download full draw or your team's schedule to your calendar