The Rugby Football League have unveiled ambitious plans to fast-track four clubs into the semi-professional game from outside the game’s heartland.
From sixteen original ‘expressions of intent’ submitted 12 months ago, the potential newcomers to Co-operative Championship One from 2013 have been whittled down to seven after an exhaustive due dilligence process, where RFL club support officer Steve Ferres has undertaken a comprehensive research mission. From the final seven clubs, four will join a new look Championship One from 2013, with others potentially joining at a later date.
The final seven clubs are Gillingham-based Medway Dragons, who Steve Ferres pointed out to have made remarkable progress since being formed just four years ago, Hemel, Bristol, Coventry, Northampton, Chester and Oxford.
The RFL chief operating officer Ralph Rimmer outlined the plans at a media briefing in Brighouse, where he also announced a new television deal with broadcaster Premier Sports, who will take over coverage of the Championships from Sky from next season.
“Having harvested areas in the heartland, we need to grow the market to add value to our competition,” Rimmer said. “We need to re-invent ourselves to some extent and change the rugby league landscape in this country. That is how big the plans are.”
The four new clubs, who will be selected and announced one at a time over the next four months, will be given support from the RFL before joining a 10-club third tier of the professional game in 2013.
Minimum standards, such as a 3,000 stadium capacity, will apply in the 14-club Championship, while Rimmer called for a “leap of faith” after accepting there may be initially a lowering of quality on the pitch in the largely expansion Championship One.
Promotion and relegation will continue between the two Championship divisions from 2013.