The most exciting season of Championships Rugby League will open next Thursday (January 31) when Halifax and Sheffield Eagles kick-off a new-look campaign in front of the Premier Sports cameras at The Shay Stadium.
Defending champions Sheffield will face intense competition in 2013 with Barrow Raiders, Doncaster, Whitehaven and Workington Town all moving up the ranks to form an expanded 14-team Championship which will deliver 26 rounds of compelling action before the race to the Grand Final begins.
In Championship One, Hemel Stags, Oxford and University of Gloucestershire All Golds have all made the step up to the professional ranks for the first time in their respective histories and will join North Wales Crusaders, South Wales Scorpions, London Skolars, Gateshead Thunder, Rochdale Hornets and Oldham to compete in the most geographically diverse competition in Rugby League history.
With new players, new fans and new rivalries to look forward to in both division, 2013 promises to deliver an action-packed campaign with players across both competitions hoping to earn their place in the Rugby League World Cup 2013, which kicks-off in late October.
Alongside two new-look domestic leagues, the Northern Rail Cup has also undergone a transformation during the off-season and the re-structured competition kicks-off with the group stages on Easter Weekend, when eight Championship One clubs embark on the journey to Blackpool. At the conclusion of the group stage, the top two Championship One clubs will take their place in the knock-out rounds alongside all 14 Championship clubs as the competition builds in a straight knockout.
Speaking at the season’s official launch at The Mercure Hotel, Sheffield today, RFL Chief Operating Officer Ralph Rimmer said: “The Championships have delivered some of the most entertaining Rugby League at any level in recent seasons and with a series of changes across all three competitions, 2013 promises to deliver the most thrilling action to date.
“The introductions of Hemel, Gloucestershire and Oxford to the semi-professional ranks has generated a real level on anticipation and rejuvenated interest in the Championship One competition. All three sides have already underlined their determination to challenge some of the game’s most established clubs for supremacy at that level.
“The three new clubs provide the sport with a unique opportunity to take games into new areas and that is something that we are all very excited about and with two clubs set to earn promotion from Championship One this season, the competition will certainly be stiff.
“With the Championship also embracing changes and expanding to become a 14-team competition it promises to be one of the most competitive leagues we have ever seen. All 14 clubs are capable of beating one another and I feel certain that we will be treated to captivating action throughout the season.
“The Northern Rail Cup also promises to deliver an intriguing competition right from the off with the Championship One clubs battling it out to earn a spot in the knock-out stages and with Premier Sports back on board for the 2013 campaign, I look forward to watching some top-class action during the months ahead.”
The new-look Rugby League Championships website was also launched today – please visit http://www.rugbyleaguechampionships.co.uk/ to catch up on all the latest news and views from this exciting competition.