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Strength of schedule for all teams: New draw gives Sharks a boost

There's no "easy" draw in the NRL but Cronulla may have come the closest with the revised fixture list for the 2020 Telstra Premiership season announced on Thursday.

With a new shortened 20-round season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, each NRL club will play 10 teams once and five teams twice before the finals kick off in October.

That means some teams will have a tougher fixture list than others, depending on how many elite teams they will be asked to play twice.

Of course, there are many more factors to a draw than the strength of your opponents – especially this year.

Some teams, such as Brisbane, Melbourne, North Queensland and Parramatta, will be playing home games on their usual turf this season, while others will be based in a new city (and in the Warriors' case, a new country) for the early rounds at least.

The best are coming back

But looking strictly at the strength of schedule in terms of opponents, the Sharks appear to have hit the jackpot considering they don't have to play any of last year's finalists twice in the regular season.

All other clubs will face at least two of last year's top-eight teams twice, with premiership heavyweights the Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters having "home-and-away" games against four of last year's finalists.  

Cronulla started the season with back-to-back losses in March, both of them narrow defeats - to the Rabbitohs in the first weekend then another close one to the Storm before the season went into an enforced hiatus.

The Roosters kicked off their premiership defence by also going down in both their March matches along with the Warriors, Dragons, Titans and Bulldogs.

Apart from Cronulla's fortune, the other main takeaway from an analysis of the draw is how even it is for the rest of the competition.

Ranking each team's strength of schedule by a simple score system based on last year's ladder – so an opponent like minor premiers Melbourne are worth 16 points while wooden spooners Gold Coast are worth one – suggests the Storm and Warriors have the toughest fixture lists in the competition, although there is very little separating the top 10 teams.

The bigger gap is at the bottom of the list, where the Sharks' schedule looks much tamer than the rest of the league's.

Here's how they rank, from "hardest" to "easiest".

When we ran similar numbers in October with the release of the initial, 25-round NRL draw, the Sharks were in the middle of the pack along with the Storm.

This of course isn't a flawless system – travel and the time between matches can play a large role in the "difficulty" of a fixture list, and it's worth noting some opponents are stronger or weaker than they were in 2019.

But it suggests Sharks fans can be grinning, while other clubs will get more chances to test themselves against elite competition ahead of the finals series.

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