NRL defend Eels horror run of rivals after byes

Scott Bailey |

The NRL insists Parramatta’s run of matches against fresh teams off the bye is no oversight and that the season schedule does not overly disadvantage any club.

The winless Eels have been dealt the harshest hand of any club in the opening month of the season, facing Manly, Penrith and the Sydney Roosters all in the week after their byes.

That is likely to have a significant impact in particular in Thursday night’s clash with Penrith, who were able to enjoy a weekend off during a searing March heatwave in Sydney.

But the NRL insists the situation could not be easily avoided, given the complexities of season structure.

“None of those things are ideal in any draw,” the NRL’s head of football Graham Annesley said.

“But they are consequences of all the competing factors that get built into the draw

“We have club requests. We have venue availability. This year we are really heavily constrained in venue availability. 

“There are major events like Magic Round. We have to look at the placement of byes and when teams get them, to try and give teams relief around Origin if possible.

“There are so many factors that play into the draw, it’s not possible to completely resolve everything you would like to resolve.”

Annesley was, however, adamant that this was not an oversight from the league and that they were well aware of the issue when the draw was released.

And nor does it impact Parramatta alone.

While the Eels cop three games back-to-back off teams against byes, they are only subjected to a completely fresh rival once more through the season.

Brisbane also have four games against fresh rivals this year after a bye, while six other teams each play three matches against bye-fresh opponents.

The situation is also nowhere near as farcical as in the first year the NRL had a bye in 1999, where Penrith played 13 of their 24 matches against teams fresh off a week off.

Annesley said that had been a wake-up call for the NRL, during a time where the schedule was still manually sorted.

Now, the league uses the same software empowered by the NFL and other big sporting leagues to do their draw where several factors can be loaded in. 

Included in that is a limit on how many games each team plays against sides after the bye, as the NRL first inputs all ideal scenarios and loosens the reins slightly to ensure a final product is possible.

“It’s not that this is something that slips through the cracks” Annesley said. 

“A lot of time and effort goes into trying to minimise those matters as much as possible. 

“If you have a look at how many teams play teams coming off the bye, it’s pretty widespread.”