RUGBY League fans are being promised one of the most exciting Championships season ever in 2013, with a trio of new clubs preparing to make their professional debuts in a revamped Championship I competition alongside an expanded and ultra-competitive 14-team Championship.

A restructured Northern Rail Cup competition adds to the excitement of a season that kicks-off on Thursday, January 31 when 2012 Northern Rail Cup holders Halifax host defending champions Sheffield Eagles in the opening league contest live in front of the Premier Sports cameras.

This will be the first of over 30 live games which Premier Sports will broadcast throughout the course of the year.

The new-look 14-team Championship will deliver 26 rounds of regular-season action before climaxing with the Grand Final which will once again be played as part of the Championships Finals Day in front of the Premier Sports cameras in September.

Before the Championship title is decided in a Halliwell Jones Stadium showdown, the Championship I crown will be up for grabs on Finals Day.

And with three new clubs joining the ranks to compete in the most geographically diverse competition ever, RL fans are sure to be treated to an intriguing battle between old and new throughout the year.

Championship I will begin on Saturday, March 29, when the University of Gloucestershire All Golds will play their first ever professional league fixture against fellow debutants Oxford Rugby League, while Hemel Stags, who complete the triumvirate of new-comers, begin their campaign away to London Skolars.

Before the league season starts, the Championship I clubs, minus Oxford, will be involved in the group stages of a re-structured Northern Rail Cup competition which begins on the weekend of March 2 and 3.

The eight Championship I clubs involved will compete in two groups of four with the top team in each group then progressing to join all 14 Championship clubs in the knock-out rounds when the competition intensifies in May, with the chance to secure the first silverware of the season on Sunday July 21 looming large.

“There’s a real sense of anticipation surrounding the 2013 campaign, and the introductions of Hemel, Gloucester and Oxford to the professional ranks has generated real interest in the Championship I competition,” said RFL Chief Operating Officer and former Giants chief executive Ralph Rimmer.

“These clubs all offer the sport a unique opportunity to take games into areas where we haven’t been before, and the potential to attract new fans, players and volunteers is something that we are all very excited about.

“With new clubs, new players and three new-look competitions, I believe this is going to be the most exciting and important season in the Championship ever.

“The enthusiasm with which all three clubs have embraced their introduction to the professional ranks has been a real boost to the Championships.

“And with those clubs joining North Wales Crusaders, South Wales Scorpions, Gateshead Thunder, Rochdale and Oldham, Championship I is certainly pushing the geographical boundaries.

“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 with all 14 clubs capable of beating one another.

“I feel certain that we will be treated to captivating action throughout the season across both divisions.”