Super League, Championship and League 1 clubs all agree to delay season start
Super League made a statement this evening stating they would push back the start of the 2021 campaign due to the ongoing effects of Covid and another national lockdown.
It read: "The Betfred Super League season will start on March 25, later than originally planned.
"The 2021 campaign was scheduled to begin on March 11 but following discussions with Sky Sports, Super League clubs agreed to move the season back by two weeks to increase the chances of kicking off the new season in front of fans.
"Super League will continue to review the fixture schedule, details of which will be released at a later date.
"It can confirm that there is no change to the season end date, with the Betfred Super League Grand Final to be played on October 9 at Old Trafford."
It seems likely there will be more midweek fixtures, then, given the Grand Final date has been nailed down; there was no scope to realistically extend the season due to the 2021 Rugby League World Cup kicking off just a fortnight later.
Below Super League, all clubs had met virtually last night to consider their own options in light of the pandemic.
The RFL had already recently advised them to “pause” training for a fortnight.
A consensus was reached to decide that the Championship season should be delayed by several weeks from the scheduled start of late February, ‘in recognition of the current public health situation and the likely implications on the return of fans to elite sport.’
For similar reasons, League 1 will now begin later in the Spring.
Championship clubs have been cleared to return training from this Saturday but initially only for “Stage 1 plus” – which permits socially distanced (non-contact) training outdoors – with the intention of moving to “Stage 2”, with contact training permitted, from February 1.
League 1 clubs will be cleared to begin a similar staged process in February – with all clubs at each level required to satisfy the RFL that that they are able to meet strict conditions regarding testing and biosecurity.
A further delay is hardly ideal for Championship and League 1 clubs who have not played since last March.
But Rimmer said: “We have been grateful to our clubs throughout the last 10 months for their responsible and constructive approach to such a challenging period for all, and Wednesday’s meeting was another example of that.
“There remains a desire and determination, from the RFL as well as clubs, to get back on the field as soon as is safely possible. However there is also a recognition of the need to be responsible at this time.
“A staged return to pre-season training, after the short pause advised last week, followed by a staggered start to the Betfred Championship and League 1 seasons, represents the best way for us to combine this responsibility with other priorities of player welfare and the financial sustainability of our clubs.
“This approach extends to the Academy and Scholarship programmes, which are so important to the future health of the game as well as the mental health of the youngsters involved – and we will confirm shortly a similar approach for the Betfred Women’s Super League.”
Discussions over a delayed return date for Academy and Scholarship programmes have also been held with the relevant Super League and Championship clubs this week, and all clubs, players and coaches will now be updated before an announcement in the next week.
England Women’s scheduled return to training this weekend has been postponed by a week, and further discussions will be held with Betfred Women’s Super League clubs this week about their pre-season training schedule.
Further details of the schedule for the 2021 Betfred Championship and League 1, including the early rounds of the Challenge Cup, will be published over the weekend, following further feedback from the clubs and consultation with the RFL Board – with fixture lists to follow.