Promoted pair ready to do battle for opening day honours of new season

PROMOTED Hunslet Hawks begin their assault on the Championship versus the side which came up with them at the end of last season.

While Paul March's men may have preferred to test themselves against one of the competition's major names such as Halifax, Featherstone or Widnes, the RFL today revealed they will instead face opponents they are all too familiar with – his ex-club York City Knights.

Championship One winners Hunslet entertain them on Sunday March 13 as they start their long-awaited life back in the second tier.

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York were elevated after defeating Oldham in the play-off final and – as the full Championship and Championship One 2011 fixture list was announced this morning – March said: "We obviously know a lot about them.

"We've come up as champions and they've followed us. York have made some signings since but we've improved massively as a squad as well and we're ready for this challenge of Championship football and eager for that opening day to come around."

There is plenty of rivalry between Hunslet and York as March was sacked as the Knights player-coach in controversial circumstances in 2009 and gradually took 10 players with him to South Leeds.

He has captured another three York players in readiness for 2011 – Richard Blakeway, Danny Ratcliffe and Joe McLocklan – and their Championship debut is certain to be a lively affair.

However, March admits his squad are looking at the bigger picture knowing how difficult it is for promoted clubs to compete in the highest echelon of semi-professional rugby.

"We're looking at survival," he said, with Keighley having come straight back down this year having won promotion themselves in 2009.

"If we do that, we've done our job. We don't want to be a yo-yo side.

"Dewsbury went up last year and looked like getting relegated.

"But they stayed up and will be a lot stronger now they've had that year's experience.

"It will be easier for them and if we can survive this year and then start building we'll be happy.

"We've a new chairman who is very ambitious and I'm an ambitious coach so we're all working towards the same goal.

"We're ready for this. We've been back training for a while now and we're just waiting for that opening day."

York, meanwhile, have strengthened with Leeds Rhinos winger Tom Bush arriving at Huntington Stadium.

"I wasn't surprised they won that final," added March. "Oldham had more experience having been to three finals on the bounce but York had got some form together.

"However, York finished 17 points behind us in the table and still got promoted; I think the structure of Championship One needs to be looked at."

The ex-Wakefield and Huddersfield star added: "The rivalry between us and York is massive, especially over the last few years with what happened with me and then so many players coming here to Hunslet.

"I never coached these latest three at York but those who have played alongside them say they are good additions and know what they can do.

"I've played against them too and they will help us while we've got a few players now with Super League experience ready for this step up."

Ex-Warrington winger Richie Barnett is one of those having joined from Sheffield Eagles while Andy Yates arrives from St Helens.

Elsewhere, Featherstone Rovers, long-time favourites last season only to then be stunned by Halifax in Grand Final extra-time, begin their attempts at redemption by heading to Leigh in front of the television cameras on Thursday March 10.

Champions Halifax start their defence of the title in France at Toulouse on Saturday March 12 while Sheffield Eagles host Widnes – favourites to be granted a Super League place in 2012 – the following afternoon when Batley Bulldogs also welcome Dewsbury Rams in a Heavy Woolen derby for their first encounter of the season.

York play their first home game in a televised clash against Sheffield on Thursday March 17 while Sky will also broadcast coverage of an intriguing Grand Final re-match at The Shay a week later.

The RFL, meanwhile, are set to announce around that time – mid-March – which Championship club will be awarded a Super League franchise for 2012 with Widnes currently deemed the most likely of the bidders ahead of Halifax and Leigh.

In Championship One, relegated Keighley begin on March 13 against London Skolars at Cougar Park with the only other Yorkshire club – Doncaster – hosting South Wales Scorpions.

The competition is reduced to 10 teams with Blackpool expunged due to financial problems.

Meanwhile, the Northern Rail Cup – won by Batley last season – kicks-off on February 6.

Some key dates for 2011 season

February 6 – Northern Rail Cup matches start.

February 27 – World Club Challenge takes place.

Weekend of March 6 – Challenge Cup 3rd round.

April 10 – Northern Rail Cup quarter-finals.

May 8 – Carnegie Challenge Cup 4th round.

May 22 – Carnegie Challenge Cup 5th round.

June 12 – England mid-season international.

June 19 - Northern Rail Cup semi-finals.

July 17 - Northern Rail Cup Final.

July 24 – Carnegie Challenge Cup quarter-finals.

August 7 – Carnegie Challenge Cup semi-finals.

August 28 – Carnegie Challenge Cup final.

September 11 – Co-operative Championships play-offs start.

October 2 – Co-operative Championships Finals Day.

October 23 – Four Nations starts.