A rejuvenated St George Illawarra will relish opening-month clashes against traditional bogey sides, according to Dragons winger Jason Nightingale.
The release of yesterday's keenly anticipated NRL draw confirmed the Dragons' credentials will be severely tested in an awkward opening month of the 2013 season.
The Red V will travel to AAMI Park to take on premiers Melbourne in the opening round before hosting Brisbane at WIN Stadium. But it's the trips to traditional graveyards Canberra Stadium and Toyota Park to take on the Raiders and Sharks thereafter that loom ominously.
Perhaps the biggest positive for Steve Price's men were fixtures not included in the draw - energy-sapping trips to Townsville and Auckland to take on the Cowboys and Warriors.
It means the Dragons, out of the finals for the first time since 2007 this year, won't be forced to board a flight for longer than an hour on their travels throughout the season.
"For me one of the first things I do is go through the draw and see if I get to go over to New Zealand," Kiwi international Nightingale said.
"Those long trips are good for bonding and spending a bit of time together, but there will be plenty of time for that throughout the year.
"Generally, I don't think the boys will be too disappointed missing out on travelling that extra distance."
Bookmakers have already all but written off a youthful St George Illawarra's chances of starting their campaign with a win against the Storm.
TAB Sportsbet promptly posted the Dragons as a $3.50 chance to topple Melbourne - the longest price for any outsider in the opening round.
But Nightingale said St George Illawarra would be buoyed by their last visit to bleak city for a season-opening fixture, a golden-point extra time loss in Wayne Bennett's first game as coach.
"They will start favourites for that game, which will take a little bit of pressure off us, but we've got our own expectations for how we'll go this year and they will as well.
"It's a massive challenge first-up, which can only be a good thing, and if you're going to get Canberra you want to get them as close to September as you can."