17 teams, 27 rounds, 3 byes. The 2023 draw is here and it is…interesting. The Parramatta Eels once again find themselves burdened with one of the harder schedules in the NRL but like the late great Randy Savage famously said – “I’m the tower of power, too sweet to be sour.”. Wait no, that wasn’t the one. “But the cream will rise to the top, ooh yeah“, there we go!
A tough draw didn’t hold the Blue & Gold back in 2022 and if anything, it can be used to galvanise and sharpen a hungry squad. Still, there are plenty of quirks, both good or bad, to their upcoming campaign so let’s take a dive into the details.
Panthers, Roosters, Cowboys, Broncos, Storm, Sea Eagles, Titans, Bulldogs.
Sharks, Knights, Warriors, Dragons
Tigers, Raiders, Rabbitohs, Dolphins
First up and crucially is who they play twice. Familiar foes and old rivals feature here in the likes of the Penrith Panthers, Brisbane Broncos, Melbourne Storm, Manly Sea Eagles and Canterbury Bulldogs. Joining them in the home/away splits are the North Queensland Cowboys (who we do NOT play in Darwin this year, thank god) and Gold Coast Titans. While Parramatta missed a chance to play the Dolphins twice in 2023, given their clash against the new franchise is an away fixture they will be doing the full tour of Queensland next year.
The Wests Tigers surprisingly will only face the Eels on Easter Monday but easily the most pleasant appearance in the single game season matchup is that of the South Sydney Rabbitohs. While I solemnly maintain that Parramatta will one day break the stranglehold that the Bunnies hold over them, the fact they can only beat us once in the regular season next year is a huge boon.
Prime Time Shine
If the Eels are to go one better in 2023 they are going to have to shine in prime time footy. A combined 13 appearances on Thursday and Friday nights, 11 of which occupy the premier slot, mean that over half their season will be played before the weekend properly starts. If my math is right, 9 of those games are against 2022 Top 8 teams which means the Blue & Gold will need to bring the heat.
Bye, Bye, Bye
The spread of byes for Parramatta is quite difficult to qualify as positive or negative. They pick up a handy pair of midseason breaks in Rounds 14 and 18 before getting the last week of the regular season off in Round 27. The Penrith Panthers made terrific use of a similar last week ‘bye’ in 2022 and subsequently unleashed a turbo-charged roster on the finals. Can the Eels do the same in 2023?
The 5-day Turnaround Factor
It sure feels like Parramatta always feature here but once again they find themselves with a NRL-high 3 5-day turnarounds. The Roosters are the only other club to share that dubious honour in 2023. While you don’t take any matchup for granted, thankfully none of the 3 short weeks leads to a 2022 Top 8 opponent (Bulldogs>Broncos, Bulldogs>Sea Eagles, Dragons>Broncos).
Streak vs Streak
Not only do the Parramatta Eels kick off the 2023 season by hosting the Melbourne Storm on Thursday night at CommBank Stadium in Round 1 – it has the added gravity of two astounding streaks getting pitted against each other. Melbourne’s legendary run of 22 Round 1 victories goes on the line against Parramatta’s full four year stretch entrenched inside the Top 8.
The Eels have had the edge over their Victorian counterparts in recent times and I dare say a significant focus on Melbourne’s preseason will go into this one particular clash.
Public Holiday Patron Saints
Easter Monday and the King’s Birthday long weekends are both the domains of the Parramatta Eels once again in 2023. Alas, both are away fixtures next year and will take place at Accor Stadium but that merely means more space to pack out in Blue & Gold with the day off work!
The Gauntlet 2.0
In 2022 the Eels fought through a battery of teams in the run to the finals that included Penrith, South Sydney and Melbourne. Next year they are staring down the barrel of a 6-game stretch before their last round bye that features the Cowboys, Storm, Roosters and Panthers. They emerged from this year’s gauntlet battle hardened and primed for a massive finals push, can they do the same in 2023?