The RFL has confirmed that the 2021 Betfred Championship season is scheduled to begin on the weekend February 27/28.
Clubs held a virtual meeting last week and while agreeing on the need to maintain flexibility given the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, a clear plan was devised.
No club outside of Super League has played since March, meaning it will be almost a whole year between games when the season gets underway.
After one round of league action, there will be the first two rounds of the Challenge Cup, which this year will not include amateur clubs due to the current situation.
The 10 League One clubs, plus Dewsbury, Oldham, Newcastle and Whitehaven, will enter in the first round, with the other nine English Championship clubs joining in round two, and Toulouse not participating.
That will present eight winners to play in the third round a fortnight later, with the four winners then joining the 12 Super League clubs in the last 16 in April.
Those four teams will also qualify for the 1895 Cup semi-finals, with a place at Wembley up for grabs.
In both the Championship and League One, for which a start date has not yet been confirmed, teams will play each other once home and away – with a decision yet to be made on whether the Summer Bash will take place in 2021.
The league table in both competitions will be determined on a points percentage system, which was introduced in Super League in 2020.
Clubs have already agreed that games played behind closed doors will be streamed live on the RFL’s Our League platforms (app & website) on a pay per view basis, allowing supporters to watch fixtures even if they cannot attend in person – with home season ticket holders given free access to the live stream packages for their club’s league games.
The full fixture list is to be released in mid-January, with the draw for the first two rounds of the Challenge Cup scheduled for the week commencing January 4.
The RFL will finalise further details in the New Year.
2021 schedule – summary
February 27-28: Betfred Championship, Round 1
March 6-7: Challenge Cup, Round 1
March 13-14: Challenge Cup, Round 2
March 20-21: Betfred League 1, Round 1
March 27-28: Challenge Cup, Round 3
April 9-11: Challenge Cup, Round 4 (Betfred Super League clubs enter)
June 5-6: Challenge Cup and AB Sundecks 1895 Cup Semi Finals
Saturday July 17: Challenge Cup Final and AB Sundecks 1895 Cup Final (Wembley)