SUPER LEAGUE has received a huge boost ahead of the new season with main sponsors engage Mutual Assurance announcing a contract extension of around £2m.
The financial services company, which took over sponsorship of the game's elite competition from Tetley's 12 months ago with a two-year deal worth £1.65m, has extended its backing to the end of the 2008 season.
The new deal, worth £1m a year, was announced at the official launch of the new season at Old Trafford.
The campaign gets under way on Friday when promoted Castleford take on Hull, with Huddersfield Giants opening their season at Leeds Rhinos on Sunday.
News of the engage contract extension was revealed by RFL executive chairman Richard Lewis, who believes it is yet a further indication of how Super League is going from strength to strength.
"The relationship between the League, its clubs and supporters and the engage brand continues to develop well and offers great benefit to all parties," said Lewis.
"This renewal also demonstrates the growing commercial worth of the Super League competition and its significant value as a key partner for brands.
"Every year, Super League gets stronger and stronger, and this season promises to be the best yet.
"All 12 clubs have recruited strongly, with the competition expected to be fierce from start to finish.
"Attendances are continuing to increase, and judging by the level of season-ticket sales reported at all clubs, that rise should again be significant in 2006.
"Bradford Bulls have given us a great start with their victory over Wests Tigers in the World Club Challenge on Friday night, and there are some cracking opening fixtures this weekend.
"You can sense the excitement as the season draws nearer. This is a great time to be a supporter of Super League."
Extra interest has been added to the competition with the arrival of French club Les Catalans Dragons.
They play their first game at home to Wigan at Perpignan on Saturday, with Jerome Guisset issuing a warning to his former Warriors teammates ahead of the historic clash.
Prospects for France's latest Super League venture took a battering when they suffered a pre-season nine-try home defeat by Harlequins.
The Dragons were also soundly beaten in their second warm-up match at Hull.
But ex-Warrington and Wigan forward Guisset insists the French will be ready to do battle when Wigan visit Stade Aime Giral.
"I don't think you can take the friendlies into consideration," he said. "They were trial games.
"We used a 25-man squad rotation, it was an opportunity to give some of the younger squad members a taste of what awaits them.
"We will have a different face when it comes to crunch time on Saturday. The team is now ready, we know exactly what to expect week in, week out."
The Perpignan club are expecting a crowd of around 10,000 for their opening game and are confident of succeeding where founder league members Paris St Germain failed.
Guisset, who began his career in Perpignan with St Esteve, says the town is buzzing with anticipation and believes the multi-national team can deliver the goods.
"It's important to start well," he said. "The rugby league community is awake for this game. It has been a long time since they have been talking about Super League in France."