THE new Championships season gets off to an explosive start next Thursday (January 31) when Halifax and Sheffield Eagles kick-off a new-look campaign in front of the Premier Sports cameras at The Shay.
Defending champions Sheffield will face intense competition in 2013, with Barrow, Doncaster, Whitehaven and Workington all moving up the ranks to form an expanded 14-team competition which will deliver 26 rounds of compelling action before the race to the Grand Final begins.
In Championship I, Oxford, University of Gloucestershire All Golds and Hemel Stags have all made the step up to the professional ranks for the first time in their respective histories and will join North Wales Crusaders, South Wales Scorpions, London Skolars, Gateshead Thunder, Rochdale Hornets and Oldham to compete in the most geographically diverse competition in RL history.
Alongside the two new-look domestic leagues, the Northern Rail Cup has also undergone a transformation during the off-season and the re-structured competition kicks-off with the group stages on Easter Weekend, when eight Championship I clubs embark on the journey to Blackpool.
At the conclusion of the group stage, the top two Championship I clubs will take their place in the knock-out rounds alongside all 14 Championship clubs as the competition builds in a straight knockout.
Speaking at the season’s official launch, RFL Chief Operating Officer and former Giants chief executive Ralph Rimmer (above) said: “The Championships have delivered some of the most entertaining Rugby League at any level in recent seasons and, with a series of changes across all three competitions, 2013 promises to deliver the most thrilling action to date.
“The introductions of Hemel, Gloucestershire and Oxford to the semi-professional ranks has generated a real level of anticipation and rejuvenated interest in Championship I.
“All three sides have already underlined their determination to challenge some of the game’s most established clubs for supremacy at that level.
“The three new clubs provide the sport with a unique opportunity to take games into new areas and that is something we’re all excited about, and with two clubs set to earn promotion from Championship I this season, the competition will certainly be stiff.
“With the Championship also embracing changes and expanding to become a 14-team competition it promises to be one of the most competitive leagues we have ever seen.
“All 14 clubs are capable of beating one another and I feel certain that we will be treated to captivating action throughout the season.”