Dragons to face Storm in opener

Nanjing Night Net

St GeorgeIllawarra will play their opening game of the 2013 season against the Melbourne Storm.

The NRL will release its long-awaited draw for the upcoming season this morning, incorporating a fixed schedule for the opening 20 rounds.

The Mercury understands the Dragons have been slated to play the Storm in round one, on Sunday March 10, with the match being telecast on Channel 9.

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Meanwhile, Sonny Bill Williams’s club debut for the Roosters has been set down as the season opener against the Rabbitohs, on Thursday March 7.

The Broncos will play Manly on the Friday night of the opening round, and Parramatta will begin their new era under coach Ricky Stuart against the New Zealand Warriors.

The Dragons have played the Storm on only one occasion during each of the past three seasons. Of those games, two were played in Melbourne and the latest was in Wollongong.

This morning’s draw release, due at 11am, will clarify which of the Dragons’ home games will be played at WIN Stadium.

Dragons chief executive Peter Doust told the Mercury earlier this week that home games in 2012 would alternate evenly between WIN Stadium and the side’s other ground, Kogarah’s WIN Jubilee Oval.

“That’s our objective,” Doust said.

“We’ve really been all over the shop in recent years. But this year we’ll have a fixed schedule for the first time ever so there’s a lot of opportunity for our members and stakeholders to get behind the Dragons.

“For the first time in five years, we will be guaranteeing where we’re playing and when.”

One of the Dragons’ first away games will be their hoodoo match against Canberra in round three, on Sunday March 24.

Meanwhile, NRL coaches might have to wait until 2015 to get their wish for a reduction in interchanges, with the ARL Commission (ARLC) admitting it was in no rush to alter the way the bench is used.

Several coaches have called for substitutions to be cut from 10 to eight or fewer – claiming it would have a multitude of benefits for the game, including enhancing player safety.

But with the rules committee to meet early next month, ARLC director of football operations Nathan McGuirk said a reduction in interchanges was not in the pipeline.

“It won’t be for next year,” he said.

“It’s something we have to give clubs at least 12 months advanced notice of, mainly due to the impact it would have on recruitment.

“It’s something that we wouldn’t rush into making a decision on. We would look at the implications of making such a serious change to the way the game would be played.”

Given the research the ARLC would need to undertake, the earliest it could come into effect would be the 2015 season.

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