NRL CEO Andrew Abdo insists the league's draw is as fair as it possibly can be after Cronulla emerged as the biggest winners out of the globetrotting 2024 schedule.
The NRL announced its fixtures on Monday, with South Sydney and Parramatta handed two of the toughest draws as they fight to return to the finals.
It came as the NRL heralded a new era for the game, with Manly and the Rabbitohs kicking off in a Las Vegas double-header on March 2 with close to 20,000 tickets already sold.
Newcastle host Canberra in the first match in Australia on March 7, while matches will also be played in Christchurch, Bundaberg and Darwin.
Perth will again host a fixture, but it has gone from a double-header to a single game after Souths pulled out.
The Warriors will host a game on Anzac Day in New Zealand for the first time since 2015, as one of three matches to be played on April 25.
But it is the Sharks who should walk away from Monday the happiest, after bowing out of the first week of the finals this year.
Craig Fitzgibbon's men only have nine games against 2023's top-eight teams, the least of any club in the draw.
They also only play the Warriors twice out of last season's top four, while facing all of the bottom four from 2023 two times.
In contrast, Melbourne have suffered the toughest run.
Craig Bellamy's perfect round-one record will face its sternest test against Penrith on March 8.
And in what looms as potentially his last season, Bellamy's Storm cop all other teams from last season's top four twice and have 12 games against 2023 finalists.
The Eels and Rabbitohs' pulling power has also left them with a clump of blockbusters against the top clubs after being 2023's biggest disappointments.
Along with Gold Coast, the two Sydney clubs have 13 games against last season's finalists and play three of the top four twice.
"We have to take so much into account," Abdo said.
"We listen to the club requests in terms of their match-ups and their inputs into the draw.
"We look at stadium availability, we look at turnarounds for players which is really important from a wellbeing perspective. And we plug it into a complex process.
"Now obviously, if you unpack and you look at each club's draw, you'll find what's good and what's bad.
"But our competition is so even and so tough and so uncompromising and unpredictable, that it's very difficult to know who's going to strike form next year."
Making matters worse for Parramatta is an uncanny sense of deja vu.
After they were handed three straight games against fresh clubs early in 2023, Parramatta have the equal-most next year with five across the whole of 2024.
And while five-day turnarounds are down across the board from 30 last season to 26 in 2024, Parramatta are one of four clubs with three.
Manly and Canterbury have emerged the luckiest with none.
Newcastle, meanwhile, have walked away as the biggest winners on the commercial front.
On the back of 2023's Kalyn Ponga mania, the Knights have increased from seven free-to-air games last season to 12 in 2024 at the behest of broadcasters the Nine Network.
Souths have also ended Brisbane's long-standing run as the game's most watchable team, claiming 14 free-to-air games to the Broncos' 13.
The Warriors have the least with four, followed by Gold Coast (five) and Canterbury (six).
KEY NRL DATES IN 2024:
March 2: Las Vegas season opener (Manly v South Sydney, Sydney Roosters v Brisbane)
March 21: Penrith v Brisbane (grand-final rematch in round three)
May 16: Women's State of Origin opener, Suncorp Stadium
May 17-19: Magic Round, Suncorp Stadium
June 5: Men's State of Origin opener, Accor Stadium
July 25: NRLW season opener (Newcastle v Canberra)
October 6: NRL and NRLW grand finals.