Penrith will open its 2012 National Rugby League (NRL) season with a blockbuster clash against a rejuvenated Bulldogs at Centrebet Stadium.
The NRL has released the 2012 Draw, with the season to kick off on March 1 and next year’s Grand Final to be played on September 30.
The Panthers won’t be clocking up any frequent flyer points in the early part of the season – they don’t leave Sydney until round eight, and even then, the trip is to Newcastle to take on Wayne Bennett’s Knights.
Penrith’s first five matches are against the Bulldogs (home), Roosters (away), Rabbitohs (home), Eels (away) and Sharks (home).
Over 31 weeks of the 2012 Telstra Premiership, Sydney will host more than 90 matches and the innovative design of the draw ensures a spread of local derbies and key rivalries at every turn.
16 Sydney matches were given Category 1 status to ensure the most exciting spread of games with a further 60 classified as Category 2.
“This has been a very different draw process and one that ensures the best opportunity for clubs to promote their marquee games,” said NRL Director of Football Operations, Mr Nathan McGuirk.
The NRL said Penrith would wear pink in their much-anticipated local derby against Parramatta in round 16.
“The draw provides a taste of the incredible opportunities that lie ahead for Rugby League in 2012 and beyond,” said NRL Chief Executive, David Gallop.
Penrith’s opening clash against the Bulldogs could be given more meaning if speculation turns out to be true and Des Hasler makes an off-season switch to take up the coaching position at the club one year early.