There’s plenty of commentary around the so-called ‘favourable draw’ for the Canberra Raiders in the 2024 NRL season. The Raiders only play the Panthers, the Broncos and the Storm once next season, with two games against the Warriors.
Of the other teams that finished in the top eight in 2023 – Newcastle, the Sharks and the Roosters – the Raiders will play them twice in 2024.
That’s 11 games for the Raiders in the 27-round 2024 season against top eight teams from last year.
The Raiders have three byes in 2024, with 13 games against bottom nine teams from 2023.
While the commentary has been focused primarily on this aspect of the draw, the Raiders would be disappointed not to be playing more games against teams from the top eight.
Playing the top eight sides presents opportunities to thoroughly test the team against premiership heavyweights, and they also tend to draw bigger crowds. These aspects make the playing experience far more enjoyable for the players, plus the crowds love these clashes.
In 2024, I think three genuine blockbusters are set down for Canberra Stadium.
Games between the Roosters and the Raiders always have something extra. Expect no different when the Roosters come to town on 25 May.
Pencil in Jack Wighton’s return to Canberra in Round 21 on Sunday, 28 July, with his new team, South Sydney.
Then, in Round 25, the reigning premiers, the Panthers, head to Canberra for a Saturday afternoon blockbuster.
While the draw is what it is, the allocation of games for free-to-air television leaves a lot to be desired.
The Raiders will have seven games on Channel 9 in 2024.
Five teams that finished below the Raiders in 2023 have at least 10 games on free-to-air. Last year’s ninth-placed South Sydney are set to appear on free-to-air 14 times in 2024.
Some years ago, when the Raiders were struggling to get a fair go with free-to-air coverage, the powers that be stated that it was based on performance.
That’s obviously not the case. It’s clearly more about targeting heavily populated areas of Sydney.
So the Raiders will miss out on crucial marketing and profile opportunities.
Even though they will be on pay television, the audiences are far greater on free-to-air as plenty of households don’t have access to Fox Sports or Kayo.
While on the surface the draw appears to be okay for the Raiders, my preference as a fan would be to have more games against the top teams. And maybe with more top-eight clashes, we would have more games on free-to-air television.
But the concept of equity for free-to-air television coverage appears dead and buried.