Brisbane have been battered by the 2023 NRL draw as Queensland’s biggest club battle to avoid a fourth straight season outside the NRL finals.
The Broncos haven’t finished in the top eight since 2019, when their premiership dream ended in a nightmarish 58-0 loss to Parramatta in Week 1 of the Finals.
They won the club’s first-ever wooden spoon in 2020, finished 14th in 2021 and this year were knocked out of the top eight after a last-round loss to the Dragons.
CLICK ON HERE TO SEE THE FULL NRL DRAW FOR THE 2023 SEASON
And the NRL has done Kevin Walters and his troops no favors with the 2023 draw.
Brisbane open their 2023 campaign against reigning Premiers Penrith at BlueBet Stadium in Sydney’s west.
In the second round, the Broncos face an equally difficult task, hosting the Cowboys at Suncorp Stadium. North Queensland finished third in the table in 2022 and lost one game before the grand final.
It’s been a rough start to the season for Walters, and the end isn’t any kinder.
READ MORE: Player moves spark the biggest matches of 2023
READ MORE: Blockbuster clash will kick off 2023 as draw is revealed
READ MORE: New Zealand under the microscope after ‘timid’ World Cup exit
Starting in Round 21, the Broncos will face the Rabbitohs, Roosters, Cowboys, Eels, Raiders and Storm, all of whom have made finals this year. Their only respite during this time is a goodbye.
All Broncos play 14 games against teams that finished in the top eight in 2022.
The pass mark to play the finals this year was 14 wins.
GRAND FINALISTS COP EARLY PUNISHMENT
The two big runners-up of 2022 – Penrith and Parramatta – have no time to relax in the opening rounds of next season.
Both teams face a tough race in the first six rounds of 2023.
The Panthers host the Broncos in the first round, but then face the Rabbitohs, Eels, Raiders and Sea Eagles, along with a third-round bye.
The Eels open their season against the Storm at CommBank Stadium, then face the Sharks, Sea Eagles, Panthers and Roosters.
Fortunately for Parramatta, there is then a series of games that the Eels should win. They face the Tigers, Bulldogs, Broncos, Knights and Titans before facing the Raiders in Round 11.
GIFTED BATTLERS RACE MORE SOFT
Some of the clubs fighting to get back to the final next year will be licking their lips at the draw.
Newcastle – which finished 14th this year – has played 11 games against other teams in the last eight from 2022, as well as playing against the Dolphins twice and having three byes.
The Knights have a relatively easy run in the countryside.
They again face the Warriors, Tigers, Dolphins, Raiders, Sea Eagles and Warriors in the first six rounds. Canberra are the only one of these clubs to have made finals this year.
Newcastle, however, miss the Magic Round festival in Brisbane, receiving the bye in round 10.
The Wests Tigers – who haven’t made NRL finals since 2011 – also have a relatively easy draw compared to other sides.
They, too, have 11 games against other clubs in the last eight, while facing the Dolphins once and having three byes.
The Tigers open their season against the Titans, then face the Knights, Bulldogs and Broncos before the sixth round – albeit with a Storm meeting between the two.
NEW DOGS AWAIT THE BATTLE WITH BIG CATS
Some of the hottest trades this off-season take place between the foothills and Belmore.
Cameron Ciraldo has left his assistant position at Penrith to become Canterbury’s new head coach, while Fijian backrower Viliam Kikau follows him to the Bulldogs.
Why Ciraldo accepted the Dogs concert
But they will have to bide their time to face their old friends, with the Dogs and Panthers only meeting in the 21st inning, when they play at BlueBet Stadium.
There are a few mainstream blockbusters much earlier in the schedule. The Roosters and Rabbitohs collide at the Allianz Stadium in the third round, while the Brookvale battle – Manly and Melbourne meeting on Sydney’s northern beaches – is set for the seventh round.
For a daily dose of the best news and exclusive content from Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter by click here
Out-of-contract superstars headline NRL’s silly $50m season