The NRL will stage a record number of double headers and regional matches in 2018 as well as more Sunday blockbusters in a new-look season schedule.
There will also be a standalone weekend for State of Origin II, while no club will have more than three five-day turnarounds as part of a drive to protect player welfare.
The Premiership will open with a clash between St George Illawarra and Brisbane Broncos at UOW Jubilee Stadium on Thursday, March 8.
Round One will also feature a Sunday afternoon clash between Penrith Panthers and Parramatta Eels at Panthers Stadium. There will be 28 Sunday matches in Sydney - in 22 of the 25 rounds.
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg announced the 2018 season would feature:
- Four double headers – Perth Stadium, Sydney's ANZ Stadium, Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium and Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium;
- Five matches in regional NSW (Bathurst, Tamworth, Mudgee and two in Gosford), and three in regional Queensland (Gladstone, Cairns and Toowoomba);
- A more even distribution of free to air matches on Channel Nine. Eleven teams will play in at least 10 matches on free-to-air TV next year – compared with only five teams in 2017;
- A standalone weekend for a Sunday night State of Origin II, which means only two rounds will be directly affected by State of Origin;
- The introduction of a Thursday night game in the Easter Round (North Queensland Cowboys against Penrith Panthers). This means games will be played on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday over the Easter break;
- Some of the game's greats rivalries being played out twice during the season, including: Broncos v Cowboys, Bulldogs v Eels, Rabbitohs v Roosters, Dragons v Sharks and Panthers v Eels;
- Games staged in every mainland Australia capital as well as both the north and south Islands of New Zealand.
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