Revealed: The teams with the hardest and easiest draws
The NRL draw will never be perfect. It is often referred to as a TV schedule to ensure the best sides play each other more often in blockbuster games and rivalry rounds to keep the networks happy.
Integrity and fairness take a back-seat to manufacture ratings for Channel 9 and Fox Sports.
It's the business and commercial reality of catering for your billion dollar financial partners and in turn their advertisers.
It would be madness not to schedule Roosters v Rabbitohs, Panthers v Eels, Broncos v Cowboys and Sharks v Dragons twice every season for not only TV ratings but gate takings.
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Yet battling clubs the New Zealand Warriors and the Wests Tigers are almost certain to miss the finals this year because of the toughness of their draws.
They play four clubs in the top eight twice.
The fact the Warriors have been so competitive while having to borrow players, without a home ground and having to cope with the toughest draw in the game while living on the road speaks volumes for what they have achieved.
At the other end of the scale the Knights, Sharks, Parramatta Eels and Titans play four games against bottom eight clubs twice. It's a huge advantage.
The Warriors play teams with a combined 88 competition points twice.
The Titans play teams with a combined 56 points twice.
The Penrith Panthers are another club that has benefitted from a softer draw than some.
But take nothing away from a side that has completely dominated since the start of the season.
An incredible statistic emerged this week that the Panthers had been behind on the scoreboard in only 33 minutes of 970 minutes of sustained dominance.
That's 12 minutes in Round 5 against the Eels, 13 minutes in Rd 8 against the Wests Tigers and eight minutes in Round 10 against the Cowboys.
No side has scored a try in the opening 20 minutes against Penrith since round one.
They just hit the front each week and don't let up.
The fact they play only two top-eight sides twice - the Sharks and Eels - does help.
Not that Panthers legend and Fox Sports commentator Greg Alexander will concede that.
"Who was to know at the start of the year that the Broncos and Cowboys would be running 14th and 15th," Alexander said, "A lot of people tipped them both to be in the top eight. It's just the way it pans out. You never know when the draw is being done."
Warriors coach Todd Payten refuses to blame the schedule.
"There are no easy games anyway," Payten said, "my frustration around the integrity of the draw is that we don't get a home ground advantage this year because of COVID.
"We're doing it tough but we're hanging in and I'm really proud of the team."
Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire is offering no excuses.
They play the Eels, Panthers, Knights and Rabbitohs twice.
They've got the Roosters, Panthers, Sea Eagles, Rabbitohs, Storm and Eels in the run home.
"You've just got to win games," Maguire said, "There are no excuses. You can't whinge and moan.
"We needed to win a few of our earlier games that we let go.
"It would have put us in a much better position now. We've got to own it."
The NRL's head of football Graham Annesley says any draw where teams don't play each other an equal number of times has limitations.
"We have not been in a position to have two full rounds for decades due to the number of teams in the competition" he said.
"As a result, each year the draw involves compromise in endeavouring to balance fairness, geography, travel, venue availability, marque events, broadcast commitments, and commercial obligations.
"Every NRL team always plays each other once with the remaining games determined by a combination of all those considerations.
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"In scheduling the additional games for each team to play a second time, it is of course impossible to know from year to year how teams will perform, so there will always be a degree of inequity.
"This year added the unique complexity of the draw revision after the first two rounds due to COVID-19. Turnaround times between matches, biosecurity bubbles, and same-day interstate travel had to be managed to cater for player welfare as much as possible given the massive impact of the pandemic.
"All of that said, I'm absolutely confident the best teams generally find themselves in the finals where a brand new four week competition commences to determine the premiers."
Due to the shortened season, some teams get dudded by playing top teams twice. The tables below tally the premiership points scored to date by the teams they have to play twice, to determine the difficulty of their draw.
Originally published as Revealed: The teams with the hardest and easiest draws of 2020