Championship and League 1 settle on new start dates

Rowan Milnes of Bradford Bulls evades the tackle of Greg Richards of London Broncos in 2020. (Paul Currie/ Milnes of Bradford Bulls evades the tackle of Greg Richards of London Broncos in 2020. (Paul Currie/
Rowan Milnes of Bradford Bulls evades the tackle of Greg Richards of London Broncos in 2020. (Paul Currie/
Betfred Championship and League 1 clubs have now targeted the weekend of March 21 for their return – which will be one year and one week since they were last in action.

They are due to return with the 2021 Challenge Cup first round featuring all 13 UK clubs from the Championship, plus three from League 1 -Keighley Cougars, Barrow Raiders, and West Wales Raiders.

The Championship had been due to kick-off on the last weekend in February but will now begin on April 2-4 – the Easter weekend – and run until a Top Six Play-Off Series in September and October.

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Following a short pause in training after the announcement of the latest national lockdown, the clubs agreed with the Rugby Football League that delaying the start would be a sensible step given the current public health situation, and a desire to minimise the number of fixtures played behind closed doors before the return of fans to grounds.

For similar reasons, the start of League 1 has been put back until the weekend of May 8-9.

This will still allow each team to play the other nine twice in an 18-round season before a Play-Off series.

The Challenge Cup second round will take place on the weekend of March 28 with the winners of those four ties earning a double reward – a place in the third round when the 12 Betfred Super League clubs join the competition on the weekend of April 10-11, and also in the semi finals of the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup in June, meaning they will be 80 minutes away from a place at Wembley on July 17.

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In the Championship, each team will play nine of the other 13 teams twice, and the other four once, in the 22-round formula that has been agreed with the clubs – with a decision to be made on a possible 23rd round in the Summer Bash in the coming weeks.

Clubs have already agreed that games played behind closed doors will be streamed live on the RFL’s Our League platforms on a pay per view basis, allowing supporters to watch fixtures even if they cannot attend in person – with home season ticket holders given free access to the live stream packages for their club’s league games.

Details of promotion and relegation mechanisms between the divisions will be discussed and finalised at a meeting of clubs early next month – ahead of publication of fixtures for Betfred Championship and League 1.

Given the unique circumstances of 2021, and with such a lengthy period between the early Challenge Cup rounds and the start of their league season, entry to the Challenge Cup was made optional for the 10 Betfred League 1 clubs, with the RFL stressing the importance of public health and financial considerations.

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The majority remained keen to enter, but that would have required an additional, preliminary round on March 14 – which led to the withdrawal of all bar Barrow, Keighley and West Wales, who will now complete a first round of 16 clubs.

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