Newcastle Knights will kick off the 2021 season at home against the Bulldogs and will be aiming to hit the ground running with four of their opening six games set to be played at McDonald Jones Stadium.
But Adam O'Brien's side may have to cope without Kalyn Ponga for the bulk of that period with the star fullback facing the very real possibility of missing the opening four or five rounds of the premiership following off-season shoulder surgery.
Ponga will be sidelined along with veteran five-eighth recruit Blake Green, who is recovering from a knee reconstruction and also set to miss the early rounds.
The NRL won't officially release the full season draw until Thursday but the Newcastle Herald has learned just four of the Knights' 12 home games will be played in the club's traditional big-drawing Sunday timeslot while fans won't be happy with two Thursday night graveyard clashes.
Old Boys' Day threatens to be a disaster.
Newcastle's request to face a traditional heavyweight rival on a Sunday in their last home game of the season to celebrate the club's former players fell on deaf ears. It's believed they have instead been allocated the Gold Coast Titans in one of the Thursday night timeslots.
On the positive side, the Knights will only have to play three of last season's top four once in 2021 with away clashes scheduled against premiers Melbourne and minor premiers Penrith and a home game against the Parramatta Eels. They have also drawn Wayne Bennett's South Sydney and arch-rival Manly just once with the Rabbitohs clash in Sydney and the Sea Eagles game set down for Newcastle.
In a further bonus, the Knights won't have to make the trip to the national capital to take on Canberra with the Raiders opting to take the Knights' game to Wagga.
The Magic Round returns to the calendar in Round 10 at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane with the Knights to face off against West Tigers while the club's Easter weekend clash at home will be against St George Illawarra.
There is certain to be enormous interest in Newcastle's second round clash - a trip across the ditch to New Zealand to meet former coach Nathan Brown's Warriors in Auckland.
The Knights' drought -breaking finals appearance last season obviously caught the eye of Channel Nine's football department.
It's understood Newcastle will feature on free-to-air on nine occasions.
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