National League clubs are set for a huge boost with the impending announcement of a new television deal with SKY Sports, who are now expected to screen live matches on Thursday nights from April.
The RFL had been in discussions with Eurosport about covering the lower leagues, but SKY stepped in, as they were unhappy at the prospect of losing the Northern Rail Cup and National League Grand Finals from their Rugby League portfolio, having already lost its NRL package to Setanta Sports.
A live game is set to be shown every Thursday night from the start of the regular season in April through to the end of season play-offs in October.
The deal is crucial in the hunt to find a replacement sponsor for the leagues, with LHF Healthplan ending their association with the sport at the end of 2006.
“We are in discussions with a couple of companies. If we can deliver on the TV deal, it will materially affect the sponsorship opportunities,” Nigel Wood, the RFL’s chief operating officer, said.
Northern Rail has extending its sponsorship of the non-Super League knockout competition until 2009. This year's Northern Rail Cup begins in Wales on February 9th between Celtic Crusaders and Widnes, and ends with the final at Blackpool on July 15th.