The 2021 NRL draw was released during the week, and while the new list of games are still fresh in rugby league fans’ minds, it is the perfect time to do some analysis on the draw.
As ever, there has been plenty of discussion on each team’s luck with the draw, so here are a bunch of statistics that are not only interesting, but will all roll up into a draw difficulty rating.
In addition to the stats and visuals is the occasional usual moan about the fairness of Channel Nine’s schedule.
So enjoy the stroll through the 2021 NRL Draw Analysis.
NRL DRAW 2021 – TV COVERAGE/DAYS/TIMES
STILL THE ONE……
Some may remember the catchy Channel Nine song back in the day used in ads to flog their upcoming new series, but anyone who follows rugby league in Australia will know that Channel Nine have flogged the Broncos on their FTA coverage.
So it should be no surprise that the Broncos top the FTA table again, a reversal of the 2020 ladder, but history does show that ladder position doesn’t translate into FTA numbers. Ask a Canberra Raiders fan, although their recent success takes them to seven FTA games.
Talking of few surprises, the Warriors bookend the FTA list, but a mild surprise is that they will feature twice on the Nine screens this season.
Parramatta are next best for FTA, which is fair enough given their mix of geographic advantages for Sundays, decent 2020 ladder position, and some exciting players. Last season’s grand finalists at least make the top five.
SYDNEY v SYDNEY: THE RABS TICK OF APPROVAL
Plenty of NRL fans will know that Sydney teams have a much better chance of playing on the Sunday afternoon 4pm timeslot, as this will require less travelling for Channel Nine’s Voice of Rugby League.
Two Sydney teams playing on a FTA Sunday is a given, as is the fact that just two of the games on a Sunday at 4pm in 2021 don’t feature a Sydney team at all.
A little more of an eyebrow raiser is that Sydney v Sydney dominate the Friday FTA TV timeslots more than on a Sunday.
Melbourne will be regulars on the Thursday night games, which given their consistent on-field performances will be a step up in 2021, compared to seemingly way too many awful Broncos games in 2020.
Days that teams play on follow the FTA schedule to a degree, so it’s no surprise that the Broncos feature a lot on Thursdays and Fridays. Melbourne are next best for most Thursday and Friday games.
The 2020 minor premiers Penrith, and South Sydney, are the other teams where the Thursday-Friday percentage of games is over 50%.
Canberra are the kings of Saturday rugby league, with more than half of their games on that day. Cowboys have exactly 50% of their games on a Saturday, which suits them given the geographic size of their fanbase.
The Warriors and Wests Tigers have the most Sunday games (both with 50%).
Melbourne lead the table for night games, with just two of their matches in 2021 during daylight hours (games kicking off at 4:30pm or earlier). The Storm, with all their finals experience, will be used to that.
The Bulldogs lead the way for day games, with a number on the Sunday 2pm timeslot; the Warriors also have a lot of day games compared to other teams, with the time zone on their side.
A down side of the Broncos being a one-team town, and Thursday-Friday night kings, means that there are just three daytime games in Brisbane in 2021, compared to plenty for Sydney-based fans.
Brisbane needs a second team, but until then, there’s always the excellent Intrust Super Cup for those fans in the Sunshine State’s capital that like the sun with their rugby league.
NRL DRAW 2021 – DISTANCE TRAVELLED
One big factor of a rugby league season is the amount of travel teams have to do, and there is a big gulf here, with teams from New Zealand, North Queensland, and Melbourne.
But there are some interesting points to highlight below: as long as the Coronavirus stays in its current excellent status for NZ and Australia.
2021 FREQUENT FLYER MILES
DISTANCE COVERED FIRST / LAST SIX ROUNDS
A few things to think about is how far teams have to travel early in the season, and for the crucial run home.
So we have split the distance into the first six rounds and last six rounds, to see if any teams may struggle early but get a good home run.
Given the distance needed to travel in general, there isn’t much change at the top for first/last six rounds.
The Titans have to travel to Auckland and Townsville in the first three rounds, which will test the potential dark horses’ (pardon the pun Broncos fans) credentials early in 2021.
Canberra are hurt in the last six rounds with trips to Auckland, Melbourne and Newcastle.
The Sharks don’t have to leave Sydney until round six, when their first big trip is to Newcastle.
South Sydney’s last six games have them travelling less than 200km, but looking even further back, they only have a trip to Brisbane as their most significant piece of travelling from round 12.
NRL DRAW 2021 – GAME DIFFICULTY BASED ON 2020 FINISHING POSITIONS
One aspect of the 2021 NRL draw is to see what each team’s fixture list is like based on their opponents’ 2020 finishing position.
This is interesting, only because team’s don’t play each other twice, and with some matches vital for revenue, there can be a bit of difference between the teams – as we will highlight below.
The Broncos are the clear losers of the 2021 NRL draw when it comes to opposition 2020 finishing position. But given their last place finish last season, a harder draw is to accepted as a reward for mediocrity.
It’s interesting that most of the top eight sides finish up with the harder games on paper, but last year’s minor premiers – the Penrith Panthers – have the third easiest run.
Newcastle have the best overall game difficulty factor for the top six rounds.
Just to make life harder for the Wests Tigers (in addition to the usual exodus of players), they have the second hardest game fixture difficulty.
We haven’t included a separate last six rounds v opposition, as by the time the last six rounds come around in the 2021 there should be fewer excuses about 2020 positions and more focus on 2021 league positions.
NRL DRAW 2021 – OVERALL DIFFICULTY
Some media will tell you that looking at 2020 finishing positions only is a good way to work out who got the worse draw. That would be way too easy.
But we think there’s more to that.
Whilst we do include the 2020 opposition finishing positions, there is also a range of additional data points: distance travelled, FTA coverage, and days between games. Plus there should be a consideration for early season games and the run home.
So below is the final compilation of the various stats and the unofficial 2021 NRL Draw Difficulty Rating.
Each category is ranked from 16 to 1, with an overall sum of those rankings used to determine who has the worst or best 2021 NRL draw.
Five-day turnaround are added, with more being worse. Also added is teams that get more than seven days rest between games by the end of the season. More rest equals a better 2021 NRL draw. Free to air is also in there, as more FTA means more sponsorship opportunities, and more money to make the club happy.
So the team that finished first last season, finishes first in the worst 2021 NRL draw, which is really a good thing for other teams since they won the competition last year. Perhaps a small evening out of the teams.
Teams from out of Sydney have the tougher 2021 NRL draw, with distance travelled a feature in the above table.
The Eels have no excuse based on our take of the 2021 NRL draw, featuring in the bottom few clubs for most difficulty factors.