Championship 1 Preview

The new Championship 1 season kicks off this weekend, and with it the professional debut of Oxford RLFC.

Oxford are one of three new clubs in the Championships this season, joining Hemel Stags and Gloucestershire All Golds, who have already both cut their professional teeth in the group stages of the Northern Rail Cup.

The All Golds are Oxford‘s opening day opponents, with Hemel travelling to London Skolars, while Friday’s third game has a more familiar feel, with Oldham and Rochdale facing each other in a local derby.

The first round of fixtures is rounded off by a mouth-watering Welsh derby on Monday, when South Wales Scorpions host North Wales Crusaders.

Perennial whipping boys Gateshead sit out the opening weekend, giving them time to lick their wounds following defeat at the hands of the All Golds in the Northern Rail Cup last weekend.

Two promotion spots are up for grabs, with the league champions going up automatically, and then the next five teams featuring in a play-off series.

It should mean a highly competitive season, where only three clubs will miss out on the end of season party.

Of the new clubs, Oxford are fancied to do well, given their recruiment of an experienced contingent of ex-Oldham players, coached by former Roughyed boss Tony Benson.

Benson said: “I’m very excited about the upcoming weekend. It’s just fantastic to be involved with this club as we get prepared to take the next step on the journey.

“To see how far we have come since last September, when there really wasn’t any ‘club’ here to speak of, to now having a home at Iffley Road and a squad full of players who are full of enthusiasm and raring to go, is something that gives me great deal of pride to be involved with.

“When I look at where we are and the squad we have there’s a lot of satisfaction and pride at that transition.

“If we can be competitive in all our games and play an entertaining style of Rugby League to attract the local fans, continue to develop strong links with local clubs and develop local players, then I think the future will be bright for Oxford.”

Oldham themselves are expected to be one of the favourites for promotion, as are Rochdale, who now enjoy a strong link with Super League side St Helens.

London Skolars, for many years a struggler at this level, are now a team to be taken seriously, and they are likely to be in the battle to reach the Championship.

North Wales Crusaders have quietly gone about their pre-season, and they too will have eyes on progression, while South Wales Scorpions will be one of several teams fancying their chances in the play-offs.

With future expansion well on the cards in the Championship, it’s a big season for clubs with aspirations. The two-up, two-down nature of the leagues, a new sponsor in Kingstone Press on board, and the prospect of even more new teams joining in 2014, it represents an exciting time.

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