League 1 sides enter the Challenge Cup this weekend, two months before the start of their new league season.
There are three all-League 1 ties in the second round, with the losers knowing their next competitive won’t be until the end of March.
The late start for League 1 – weekend of March 26/27 – has also caused issues for Championship sides looking for pre-season action.
With third tier sides only just starting pre-season training, and in some cases not having built their squad, arranging games with League 1 teams has been tricky.
Even one that was managed to be arranged, between Barrow and North Wales at the weekend, was postponed due to a COVID outbreak in the Crusaders squad.
So while progress in the Challenge Cup is the name of the game, League 1 sides will also be keen to win to get another fixture in the calendar between now and the start of their season.
Tie of the round
That will be a tough ask for one of Hunslet and Keighley, who meet in arguably the toughest tie of the round.
Hunslet coach Alan Kilshaw said: “By comparison with Keighley, we may be a little undercooked for the tie, given that the Cougars haven’t made too many changes to their squad from last year.
“We’ll be concentrating mainly on our own performance in the build-up, we will expect a more disciplined Keighley with and without the ball and possibly some different structures in defence as Andrew Henderson has been brought in as head of rugby; his stamp on them will be clear.
“It should be a good game and both teams will be keen to progress, especially as the League 1 season doesn’t start until late March.”
The other all-League 1 ties see West Wales Raiders host newly-relegated Swinton Lions, while Rochdale Hornets take on Midlands Hurricanes.
It will be the Hurricanes first competitive fixture since rebranding from Coventry Bears, having played a pre-season game with York City Knights recently.
League 1 new boys Cornwall are not in the Challenge Cup.
There will be at least five community outfits in the third round, where the 14 Championship teams enter.
THIRD ROUND DRAW: Rochdale to host Challenge Cup double draw
That includes one of the British Army and Royal Navy, who meet in round two, while Pilkington Recs host Siddal, Wests Warriors travel to York Acorn, West Hull clash with Rochdale Mayfield and Hunslet Club Parkside welcome Stanningley.
Leigh Miners Rangers will fancy their chances of an upset at home to North Wales Crusaders and Doncaster will be wary of a potential banana skin at home to Thornhill Trojans.
There is a London derby between London Skolars and London Chargers, while Oldham welcome Castleford Lock Lane.
Challenge Cup second round draw:
York Acorn v Wests Warriors
Rochdale Hornets v Midlands Hurricanes (streamed live on BBC Sport, Sunday January 30, 1pm)
Doncaster v Thornhill Trojans
British Army v Royal Navy
Oldham v Lock Lane
Pilkington Recs v Siddal
West Hull v Rochdale Mayfield
Hunslet Club Parkside v Stanningley
Hunslet v Keighley Cougars
Leigh Miners Rangers v North Wales Crusaders
West Wales Raiders v Swinton Lions
London Skolars v London Chargers