Door remains open to Hull Pirates as NIHL National forges ahead with nine-team season

LEEDS KNIGHTS owner Steve Nell says Hull Pirates have an ‘open invite’ to return to NIHL National for the 2022-23 season, after taking the tough decision to withdraw from the forthcoming campaign.

Hull Pirates will not be facing off in NIHL National during the 2021-22 season. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Pirates owner Shane Smith decided to sit out 2021-22 after it became clear delays to a £1.4m refurbishment of Hull Ice Arena made icing a team financially unsustainable.

The UK’s second-tier will now go ahead with nine teams, with Hull expected to return to the fray next summer.

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Frustration for player-coach Jason Hewitt after Hull Pirates withdraw from NIHL ...
Leeds Chiefs' Joe Coulter and Hull's Thomas Stubley battle for position during a NIHL National clash in February 2020. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“It is a sad day for the league, yes, Shane has been in the league for quite a few years, first with Sheffield Steeldogs and then in Hull,” said Nell, who also owns rival team Swindon Wildcats.

“But Hull are still a part of the league as far as anybody is concerned. They don’t have to ask to come back in, or be voted in, they are in. As soon as Shane wants to be back, they’ll be back in and that’s how everybody has agreed it.”

Nell said he understood Smith’s decision, particularly when it wasn’t clear exactly when the Pirates would be able to start using the facility again, with the end of October expected to be the earliest possible date.

“It was too big a risk” added Nell. “It’s the sensible decision.

Leeds Knights' team owner, Steve Nell. Picture: Steve Riding.

“You can get wrapped up in these things sometimes and you can let emotions take over.

“But I think it’s the right decision for Shane and Hull and, hopefully, they’ll be back next year which is what we all want. There is an open invite.”

Following Hull’s withdrawal, a revised league format will now see the Conference system scrapped, with teams playing each other a total of six times, three home and three away, producing a 48-game regular season starting October 15.

There will also be a nine-team cup competition that will take place prior to the regular season, plus a second cup competition similar to one held in 2019-20 when the first meeting between teams counted towards cup points. The playoffs will start on April 9, with the Final Four Weekend in Coventry staged on April 30-May 1.