There is no easy draw in the NRL Telstra Premiership – but some are arguably harder than others.
NRL.com have analysed the fixture list of all 16 clubs for the 2017 season to come up with a "toughness" rating for each team's draw.
Here's how it works: we've ranked each opponent based on their 2016 finish – minor premiers Melbourne being worth 16 points, while wooden spooners Newcastle are worth one point. Then we've used those numbers to analyse each club's draw. More games against tough opponents will lead to a high "toughness" score, while more games against weaker opponents will lead to a low score.
Of course, player movements mean teams change each year – some get better, some get worse – so we've also run the numbers based on 2017 premiership betting. We've then combined those two sets of numbers to come up with a toughness ranking for all 16 fixture lists.
These rankings don't take into account every factor in what makes a "tough" draw. Some teams will travel more than others (the Warriors, Cowboys and Storm will always travel much more than the league's Sydney-based teams, for example). Some teams will play a string of games at home or away, or face strong teams during the State of Origin period. The amount of time between games is another factor this system ignores.
Still, for a quick snapshot, here's how each club's draw is ranked – from toughest to easiest – in 2017.
1. Rabbitohs (168 points)
2. Cowboys (164)
3. Knights (162)
4. Raiders (155)
5. Sharks (145)
6. Warriors (145)
7. Dragons (139)
8. Titans (137)
9. Panthers (137)
10. Sea Eagles (132)
11. Wests Tigers (130)
12. Roosters (128)
13. Storm (123)
14. Broncos (119)
15. Eels (115)
16. Bulldogs (110)
The toughest draw belongs to the South Sydney Rabbitohs, who rank at the top of the list both according to 2016 rankings and to 2017 premiership betting. They play premiership contenders the Storm, Cowboys, Broncos and Panthers twice each, with only a single game against lower-ranked clubs like Newcastle and St George Illawarra.
By contrast, the Bulldogs only play nine of their 24 matches against teams that played finals football in 2016, and will be forced to face premiership heavyweights Melbourne, Canberra and Cronulla just once each.
The Eels meanwhile have the "easiest" draw according to the current premiership betting odds, with two games each against the three least fancied NRL clubs (the Knights, Dragons and Wests Tigers).
Does a difficult draw matter? Yes and no. Sure, playing a tougher run of opponents could make a difference for teams vying to clinch a finals spot who are on the edge of the top eight. On the other hand, teams that do make the finals will arguably be more battle-hardened if they've got there by beating the best of the best on a regular basis.
This article first appeared on NRL.com