Five key takeaways from the Championship and League 1 season launch, including Grand Final details

Aaron Bower
DIY Kitchens Wakefield Trinity Belle Vue Alamy

A view of the new stand at the DIY Kitchens Stadium, home of Wakefield Trinity - Alamy

The Rugby Football League held its traditional season launch for Championship and League 1 clubs on Friday, with Wakefield Trinity’s brand new facility, The Neil Fox Stand at the DIY Kitchens Stadium, the host venue of choice.

Representatives from almost all of the clubs were there to help launch the new season, which begins in earnest next weekend with the opening round of the revamped 1895 Cup.

Love Rugby League were in attendance, with plenty of stories emerging – and plenty of features and interviews on the way in the days ahead. But in terms of the big stories on the day, there were some key takeaways: these were the big ones that mattered.

TV deal latest

Love Rugby League revealed more details about the prospect of a Championship TV deal earlier on Friday, with the key update that talks remain ongoing with Premier Sports about a return to the channel for the competition in 2024.

RL Commercial chief executive Rhodri Jones took to the stage at Friday’s launch and admitted there would be ‘no reveals’ at the event itself, but he reiterated that talks were ongoing.

Perhaps more interestingly, Jones also stressed how the RFL have an in-house streaming platform and an arrangement with The Sportsman to broadcast 1895 Cup and other fixtures, perhaps leaving the door ajar for the Championship to go down that avenue.

As things stand though, Premier remain the favourites to secure the competition’s rights.

Championship review due soon

Jones also admitted that the future of both Championship and League 1 is still very much up for debate heading into the first full season of IMG’s plan to reimagine rugby league.

A review is now underway into the viability and long-term prospects of both competitions, and the outcome will be due sooner than most would have expected: by the middle of March.

That should give clubs outside of Super League a clear idea about where they stand in the pyramid, and whether any form of radical changes are on the horizon for 2025 and beyond.

Definitely one to watch.

Championship Grand Final details

There were also updates on the Championship Grand Final. There have been questions over whether the competition’s Grand Final could effectively become redundant in an IMG gradings world, with both clubs competing in that game in the dark about where they stand in the gradings.

But as confirmed previously, that will not be the case. Both of the competing teams in the Grand Final will know well in advance of that game where they sit in the gradings – and with bonus competition points up for grabs for the winner, you could have a scenario where one – or maybe both – teams in the Grand Final know victory could bump them up into Super League.

Expect that game to be played at the home of the highest-ranked side, just as it has been in recent years. It appears the days of the Grand Final being played at a neutral venue are not returning any time soon.

Wakefield showcase their new future

It was perhaps no surprise that as the standout club in the Championship in 2024, the RFL chose Wakefield Trinity as hosts for the launch.

Of course in recent years, that would have been a more challenging affair given the state of Belle Vue: but not anymore.

The stadium opened its doors for the first time on Friday to the public, with the season launch the first official event held in The Neil Fox Stand, as it will be known.

And it was certainly an impressive spectacle. Fans visiting Wakefield and attending fixtures in the new stand in 2024 are in for a treat.

Absent clubs

There were plenty of players and coaches in attendance on Friday – but one notable absentee: Newcastle Thunder.

Toulouse had already confirmed they would be hosting their own media event online due to the logistical challenges of being in France, but Thunder – who will compete in League 1 despite initially pulling out of the competition – were down to attend originally.

However, they are still rebuilding things on and off the field, in a bid to be ready for their first game of the season next week when they face York in the 1895 Cup.

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