Championship clubs have been cleared to start pre-season training this weekend but only on a socially distanced basis and have agreed to put back the big kick-off.
The season was due to start on the last weekend of February but the Rugby Football League says clubs agreed at a virtual meeting to delay it by “several weeks” due to the continuing problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The start of the Super League season is likely to be put back by a fortnight to March 25 and League 1 clubs will now not start playing until late spring.
The RFL last week ordered a pause in the return to training in response to the latest lockdown but Championship players can start on Saturday at stage one plus, which permits socially distanced (non-contact) training outdoors, with the intention of moving to stage two with contact training allowed from February 1.
League 1 clubs will be cleared to begin a similar staged process in February – with all clubs at each level required to satisfy the RFL that they are able to meet strict conditions regarding testing and biosecurity.
RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer said: “We have been grateful to our clubs throughout the last 10 months for their responsible and constructive approach to such a challenging period for all and Wednesday’s meeting was another example of that.
“There remains a desire and determination from the RFL as well as clubs to get back on the field as soon as is safely possible. However there is also a recognition of the need to be responsible at this time.
“A staged return to pre-season training, after the short pause advised last week, followed by a staggered start to the Betfred Championship and League 1 seasons, represents the best way for us to combine this responsibility with other priorities of player welfare and the financial sustainability of our clubs.
“This approach extends to the academy and scholarship programmes, which are so important to the future health of the game as well as the mental health of the youngsters involved – and we will confirm shortly a similar approach for the Betfred Women’s Super League.”
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