Championship fixtures - Opening French test for York City Knights

YORK CITY Knights hosting Toulouse Olympique at their new LNER Community Stadium and Bradford Bulls facing Sheffield Eagles are some of the highlights of the Betfred Championship opening weekend - with the competition also announcing it has suspended ‘golden point extra-time’ for the 2021 campaign.

Gavin Henson: Code-breaker.

Fixtures reveal Halifax’s first game following their rebrand as the Panthers is set to be against Danny Ward’s London Broncos at The Shay on the weekend of April 2 to 5.

Other games over that Easter period – the RFL will work with all clubs, broadcasters and streaming partners over the next week to confirm exact dates and kick-off times – see promotion-chasing Featherstone Rovers host Batley Bulldogs and Dewsbury Rams entertain Whitehaven.

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Doncaster will kick off their Betfred League 1 campaign on the weekend of May 8-9 with a Yorkshire derby at Keighley Cougars.

The other opening round fixtures include Hunslet hosting Workington Town and a trip to Rochdale Hornets for the West Wales Raiders, who have declared their ambition by signing the former Wales rugby union international Gavin Henson, and the ex-Man of Steel Rangi Chase.

Following a meeting of Championship and League 1 clubs with the RFL last week, clubs agreed to ditch golden point for drawn matches following concerns expressed for the welfare of players who will have gone more than a year since their last fixture, and the majority of whom are part-time.

The intention is to reintroduce golden point for the 2022 campaign.

It has also been agreed that positions on the league table in each competition will be determined by points percentage, as in the Betfred Super League last year.

This is to recognise the likelihood of fixtures being affected by Covid-19, with postponements permitted if a team loses seven or more players for Covid-related reasons – either players with positive tests, or who have been ruled out through test and trace analysis of close contacts in matches or training.

The Summer Bash will not be played in 2021 because of the expectation that crowds will have to be socially-distanced and therefore limited when fans are permitted to return.

The Championship season comprises 22 rounds running until the weekend of September 19, with each of the 14 teams playing nine of the other 13 twice and the other four once.

In League 1, there will be a full home and away programme producing 18 rounds of fixtures ending one week earlier than the Championship, on the weekend of September 12.

The exact day and kick-off time for the games in Round Two onwards of the Championship will be confirmed in the coming weeks when it is hoped that Government announcements will have given a clearer indication of when fans will be able to return to stadiums.

Betfred Championship opening round (April 2-5 – dates and kick-off times TBC): Dewsbury Rams v Whitehaven, Featherstone Rovers v Batley Bulldogs, Halifax Panthers v London Broncos, Newcastle Thunder v Widnes Vikings, Oldham v Swinton Lions, Sheffield Eagles v Bradford Bulls, York City Knights v Toulouse Olympique.

Betfred League 1 opening round (May 8-9 - dates and kick-off times tbc): Coventry Bears v Barrow Raiders, Hunslet v Workington Town, Keighley Cougars v Doncaster, London Skolars v North Wales Crusaders, Rochdale Hornets v West Wales Raiders.

Huddersfield Giants’ back-row Sam Hewitt has joined Halifax on an initial four-week loan.

The 21 year-old made a big impression for the Super League club last season, featuring nine times, but new head coach Ian Watson is blessed with options ahead of the latest campaign.

Giants have signed England second-row Joe Greenwood from Wigan Warriors as well as Great Britain’s Josh Jones from Hull FC.

They also have ex-Queensland State of Origin star Chris McQueen, former Kiwi international Kenny Edwards and the experienced Joe Wardle in their back-row ranks.

Huddersfield managing director Richard Thewlis said: “The development of younger players has been hugely affected, as we are all aware, by the Covid pandemic and, as the rules stand at the moment, there will be no reserve games nor the opportunity to dual register players in the BetFred 2021 Season.

“Of course that may change in time. However, for the here and now, it is essential for Sam’s development as a player that he plays week in, week out and the opportunity at Halifax is excellent.”