Penrith will play 11 games on Friday nights in 2018, including a final round meeting with defending Premiers Melbourne at AAMI Park.
The 2018 NRL Draw has been released this morning.
As previously reported, Penrith will open their 2018 campaign against arch rivals Parramatta in a Sunday afternoon blockbuster at Panthers Stadium on March 11.
The Panthers are also at home in round two when they take on Souths on Saturday, March 17 at 5.30pm.
Penrith return to Bathurst in round nine when they take on North Queensland on Friday, May 4. Johnathan Thurston playing at Carrington Park will ensure the game is a sell-out and perhaps has the best lead-in publicity in the concept’s history.
The draw seems generally positive for Penrith, though the side will face a tough finish to the season with road trips to New Zealand and Melbourne in the final two rounds.
For the first time in recent memory the NRL has released its draw before the AFL, giving clubs the opportunity to properly market membership and corporate opportunities.
A key reason for the early release is that the NRL now has full control of the draw. Previously broadcasters, in particular Channel Nine, had a major say in scheduling.
In 2018, Penrith has 12 of its 25 games on free-to-air TV via Channel Nine.
The draw boasts a more even distribution of free to air matches on Channel Nine. 11 teams will play in at least 10 matches on free-to-air TV next year – compared with only five teams in 2017.
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said the NRL had worked with the broadcasters to ensure a new-look draw aimed at benefiting fans, clubs and players.
“We have more control of the schedule for 2018 and we believe we have been able to deliver some wins for the everyone, but particularly the fans,” Mr Greenberg said.
“There are more blockbusters in family-friendly timeslots.
“We have introduced a Thursday night match before Good Friday because that’s what our supporters told us they want.
“And there will be at least one Sydney match for fans to attend nearly every Sunday during the season.
“We have also worked with the clubs to ensure that their requested priority match-ups were delivered.
“Additionally, for the first time the NRL will stage four double headers in one season – across two countries, as well as matches in seven different locations across regional NSW and Queensland.”
PENRITH’S 2018 SCHEDULE
Round 1: V Eels @ Panthers Stadium (Sunday, March 11, 4pm)
Round 2: V Rabbitohs @ Panthers Stadium (Saturday, March 17, 5.30pm)
Round 3: V Bulldogs @ ANZ Stadium (Friday, March 23, 6pm)
Round 4: V Cowboys @ 1300SMILES Stadium (Thursday, March 29, 7.50pm)
Round 5: V Eels @ ANZ Stadium (Sunday, April 8, 4pm)
Round 6: V Titans @ Panthers Stadium (Sunday, April 15, 2pm)
Round 7: V Sharks @ Southern Cross Group Stadium (Sunday, April 22, 4pm)
Round 8: V Bulldogs @ Panthers Stadium (Friday, April 27, 7.50pm)
Round 9: V Cowboys @ Carrington Park (Friday, May 4, 7.50pm)
Round 10: V Knights @ McDonald Jones Stadium (Friday, May 11, 6pm)
Round 11: V Tigers @ Panthers Stadium (Thursday, May 17, 7.50pm)
Round 12: V Dragons @ Panthers Stadium (Saturday, May 26, 7.30pm)
Round 13: BYE
Round 14: V Raiders @ GIO Stadium (Friday, June 7, 6pm)
Round 15: V Roosters @ Allianz Stadium (Friday, June 15, 7.50pm)
Round 16: V Sea Eagles @ Panthers Stadium (Saturday, June 30, 3pm)
Round 17: V Warriors @ Panthers Stadium (Friday, July 6, 7.50pm)
Round 18: V Sharks @ Panthers Stadium (Friday, July 13, 6pm)
Round 19: V Broncos @ Suncorp Stadium (Friday, July 20, 7.50pm)
Round 20: V Sea Eagles @ Lottoland (Saturday, July 28, 3pm)
Round 21: V Raiders @ Panthers Stadium (Sunday, August 5, 4pm)
Round 22: V Titans @ Cbus Super Stadium (Saturday, August 11, 3pm)
Round 23: V Knights @ Panthers Stadium (Saturday, August 18, 3pm)
Round 24: V Warriors @ Mt Smart Stadium (Friday, August 24, 6pm)
Round 25: V Storm @ AAMI Park (Friday, August 31, 7.50pm)
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.