‘Positive’ that Keighley Cougars will kick-off the season as top official delivers blow to Toronto Wolfpack

Players outside York Minster ahead of the media launch for the new RFL campaign (Picture: Gary Longbottom).
Players outside York Minster ahead of the media launch for the new RFL campaign (Picture: Gary Longbottom).
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THE RUGBY Football League’s chief executive Ralph Rimmer says he is “positive” about crisis club Keighley Cougars’ chances of starting the season next month.

Keighley are due to begin their League One campaign away to Whitehaven on Sunday, February 16.

Cougars have been prevented from signing players since being placed in ‘special measures’ last November after wages went unpaid.

With the club’s future in doubt there are fears they will be unable to fulfil the opening fixture in Cumbria.

Keighley were represented by a player and member of staff at the RFL’s season launch in York yesterday, though coach Craig Lingard did not attend due to work commitments and, speaking at the event, Rimmer insisted: “I am positive about Keighley starting the season.”

He added: “It is a sensitive situation and I’ll report back when we have a bit more detail, but I think things are looking good.”

Of how long Keighley will be in special measures, Rimmer added: “We are progressing things along, the season is nearly upon us and I’m sure there’ll be some news quite soon.”

Rimmer also ruled out any prospect of Toronto Wolfpack being involved in the Challenge Cup this year, despite club officials saying they are keen to take part.

The RFL confirmed earlier this week Catalans Dragons will defend their trophy after the French side had threatened to withdraw from the competition.

Catalans were angry at being asked to cover a potential shortfall in ticket sales should they reach Wembley again this season, but the RFL say a “compromise” has been reached allowing them to enter the sixth-round draw as planned.

Toulouse Olympique and Toronto had already said they will not be competing, but speaking in York, Wolfpack director of rugby Brian Noble stressed: “We’d love to take part in the Challenge Cup this year.”

He continued: “I’m interested in the ‘unique deal’ Catalans have managed to secure and I would hope there’s still some talks to go, genuinely. I’m hopeful.

“Clearly there will have to be some talks about the Challenge Cup, but I’ve said it before publicly that it’s bonkers these steps have been taken.

“I don’t think it does anything worthwhile for the game and it’s clearly a financial decision on someone’s part. All I can say is that I think Toronto have shown they’re committed to the game of rugby league financially and publicly and we’d like to be in the Challenge Cup, full stop.”

The first round, involving clubs from the community game, begins this weekend and Rimmer said there is no chance of Toronto being granted a reprieve.

“It’s really straightforward, they know what the situation is and there’s been no further discussions so the competition is as you see it,” said Rimmer.

“They won’t be in the Challenge Cup this year. All the structures have been worked out for the cup and they’re aware of that.”

Rimmer said details of the compromise allowing Catalans to take part are “commercially sensitive”, but admitted it had been a “tense situation”.

Sky Sports will broadcast games from the Championship play-offs at the end of the season, including the Grand Final. Toronto have secured a deal for all of their fixtures to be broadcast live and selected matches from the Championship and League One will be covered on the RFL’s website.

England rugby director Kevin Sinfield and Steam manager Jamie Peacock have agreed new contracts to continue their involvement with the national squad.