Parramatta and the Sydney Roosters have emerged as the big losers out of NRL draw day after the two competition heavyweights were handed the toughest schedules in 2022.
With a full fixture list announced on Tuesday, both the Roosters and Eels have been asked to play each of last season's top-four teams twice.
They also play each other twice, making for a maximum possible number of 10 games against teams from 2021's break-away top-six.
The Eels' draw is made marginally harder again, with two five-day turnarounds in the block between round 10 and round 15.
Melbourne have also been handed a tricky assignment, with two games against the other top-four teams from 2021.
But they do have the advantage of finally returning to Melbourne, with five home games in the first seven rounds after spending most of the past two years on the road.
Conversely, St George Illawarra are the big winners.
They meet just South Sydney, Gold Coast and the Roosters of the teams from last season's top eight, and don't have any five-day turnarounds.
The Titans and North Queensland also have favourable draws.
"It's impossible to say the draw is completely even, but this has a lot of balance to it," NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said.
"There will be some clubs more excited than others.
"When you look at a draw and one lens, you can easily find what is wrong with it.
"But in truth, this draw has a lot right with it."
Canberra also finally won a battle for free-to-air games with eight timeslots, their most since the current broadcast structure started in 2007.
Brisbane again lead the way with 17, while Canterbury have five and the Warriors two.
"I don't know why but we have more games this year than we did coming off the back of the grand final appearance," Raiders boss Don Furner said.
"It's what the sponsors what. There are three-times as many eyeballs as there are on pay TV."
Other draw features include a tantalising grudge match between the Roosters and Rabbitohs in Latrell Mitchell's round-three comeback game.
Mitchell was rubbed out towards the end of the 2021 season when he was suspended for six weeks for a high shot on Joey Manu, sparking outrage from the Roosters.
He will now come back at Stadium Australia against his old club on March 25.
"It does work out well," Abdo quipped.
The final-round match between the two teams could also shape as an opener for the new Sydney Football Stadium, provided it is open.
The Warriors are poised to return home against Penrith in round 15, marking their first match in New Zealand since 2019.
That is subject to the New Zealand border reopening to Australia in time, with the Warriors to play their home games in Redcliffe and the Sunshine Coast until June.
Defending premiers Penrith kick off the season hosting Manly on March 10, in a bid to have Dally M Medal winner Tom Trbojevic face Clive Churchill Medallist Nathan Cleary.
Their grand final rematch against South Sydney falls in round four on April 1.
Australian Associated Press
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