A record number of 88 clubs, covering three nations, will take the field this summer under the banner of the Rugby League Conference, as the competition celebrates the start of its tenth season.
Ten new names join those from Scotland, who have become full members after last year’s affiliate status. In addition, Gosport & Fareham Vikings have returned to the fold and there is much less reliance on ‘A’ teams from Conference National sides.
The new clubs are: Billingham Lions, Macclesfield; Scunthorpe Barbarians and South Humber Rabbitohs who are both graduates of the Midland Merit League, Farnborough Falcons and Finchley-based North London Storm who came through the London League; Somerset Vikings A, Devon Sharks, East Devon Eagles and Exeter Centurions.
Three sides have undergone name changes; Haringey Hornets reverting to their parent club London Skolars A; Aberavon Fighting Irish becoming Neath Port Talbot Steelers and South Norfolk Saints now Thetford Titans. Also, Plymouth have added the Titans moniker and other alterations see the advent of Moorends-Thorne Moor and Worksop-Rossington.
Reigning Harry Jepson Trophy holders South London Storm will kick off the 2007 RLC Premier League season in some style when they travel to West London Sharks. The capital clash, which kicks off at 3.45pm, will be played as a curtain raiser to the Harlequins V Wakefield Super League game at the Stoop on Saturday 14th April.
The high profile start to the middle tier of Conference competition is an indication of how far the competition has come. Storm claimed the silverware last year with a hugely impressive 30-0 win over East Lancashire Lions at Broadstreet in Coventry while in the other half of a double-header, Liverpool Buccaneers just held on to beat Thorne Moor Marauders in the RLC Regional decider on a memorable afternoon.
A further massive boost is the announcement that United Co-operatives have undertaken to sponsor the RLC over the next two seasons as part of its recent six-figure deal with the RFL, which will see it re-named the Co-operative Rugby League Conference. The package takes in Rugby League Conference National – previously National League Three – whose champions Bramley Buffaloes begin the defence of their crown away at promoted Cottingham Tigers on April 7th.
In terms of format, with three sides from last year’s Northern Premier plying their trade in RLC National – East Lancashire, Leeds Akkies and Cottingham – that division now has a distinctly North East flavour to it. The Midlands Premier is strengthened by the inclusion of Gloucestershire Warriors and Somerset Vikings. The Warriors were promoted after successive divisional titles in 2005 and 2006 and an appearance in the Regional Grand Final in 2005 and the semi finals the following year. “It’s going to be a challenge,” commented Chairman Chris Wilson, “but one we are really looking forward to. We are anticipating a higher level of rugby every week and I think we will be competitive.”
In the Southern Premier, St Albans Centurions bring their experience from National League 3 while Kent Ravens look to make the step up from Regional competition. In Wales, Bridgend Blue Bulls will be looking to retain their title of the Principality’s top dog with domestic competition there expecting a huge boost following Super League’s Millennium Magic weekend over the May Bank Holiday prior to the big kick off.
CO-OPERATIVE RUGBY LEAGUE CONFERENCE PREMIER STRUCTURE
Newcastle Knights, Durham Tigers, Carlisle Centurions, Copeland Athletic, Peterlee Pumas, Jarrow Vikings, Sunderland Nissan, Whitley Bay Barbarians, Gateshead Storm A, Billingham Lions.
Telford Raiders, Nottingham Outlaws, Leicester Phoenix, Derby City, Coventry Bears, Birmingham Bulldogs, Gloucestershire Warriors, Somerset Vikings
National Semi Finals September 2nd, Grand Final September 9th
In the Regional competition, Scotland comes in as a division, the West Midlands and South West are split, the latter also becoming a new league. Yorkshire and the North Midlands combine and Cheshire and the North West now have their own separate identities.
Bristol Sonics, Burntwood Barbarians, Redditch Ravens, Coventry Bears A, Oxford Cavaliers, Wolverhampton Wizards
Blackpool Sea Eagles, Ormskirk Heelers, Liverpool Buccaneers, Widnes Saints, Warrington Wizards A
Crewe Wolves, Winnington Park, North Wales Coasters, Runcorn Vikings, Macclesfield
YORKSHIRE & LINCOLNSHIRE
Leeds Akkies A, Scarborough Pirates, Bridlington Bulls, Moorends-Thorne Moor Marauders, Lincoln City Knights, Worksop-Rossington Sharks, Scunthorpe Barbarians, South Humber Rabbitohs
Broadstairs Bulldogs, Farnborough Falcons, North London Storm, Gosport & Fareham Vikings
Plymouth Titans, Somerset Vikings A, Devon Sharks, East Devon Eagles, Exeter Centurions
St Ives Roosters, Cambridge Eagles, Colchester Romans, Bedford Tigers, Greenwich Admirals, Thetford Titans
Moray Eels, Glasgow Bulls, Fife Lions, Edinburgh Eagles, Paisley Hurricanes, Easterhouse Panthers
Regular season made up of 12 rounds including cross conference fixtures where necessary except in South where there are eight rounds.
Play offs: all play offs apart from Scotland will be top three with 2 v 3 in week 1 followed by the Regional Final. In Scotland it will be a top 4 play off with 1 v 2 and 3 v 4 in week 1, Loser of game 1 v winner of game 2 in Week 2 and the Scottish Grand Final in Week 3
Divisional play offs: Home venue goes to the team with the best regular season playing record. If this is equal then percentage success rate will determine, followed by number of points scored and then number of points conceded. If they are still equal home venue will be decided by a coin toss.
Divisional Quarter Finals, August 18th, Semi Finals September 2nd, Grand Final September 9th.
Co-operative National Leagues Grand Final day will be staged at Headingley Carnegie Stadium. The event – which will take place on Sunday, 7th October – will feature a triple-header including the Co-operative National League One Grand Final, the Co-operative National League Promotion Play-Off and the Grand Final of the Co-operative Rugby League Conference National.
Prior to the beginning of the campaign, there will be the usual clubs meeting which this year will again be spilt and take place over the weekend of the 14th/15th April. The official launch will take place on the Saturday as part of the festival at the Stoop, with sides from the South, South West, Wales, Midlands and East present. Those from Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, North East, Cheshire, North West and Scotland will congregate at Brighouse the following day with an onward trip to a Super League fixture for the delegates.
Commenting on the new set up, Rugby League Services Manager Niel Wood – who has operational responsibility for the RLC – said. “This is the shape of Rugby League in 2007 and it is hard now for anyone to argue that it is not a genuine, truly national sport. Considering that the RLC officially started with 14 clubs and is now about to enter its tenth season with just over six times as many, it is a remarkable achievement that everyone who values the code should be justifiably proud of.”