Rugby League fans were today told to expect the most compelling Kingstone Press Championship and League 1 season of all time.
As the 12 Championship clubs prepare to enter the sport’s new era with their opening fixtures, and just a few weeks before the inaugural League 1 Cup kicks off, RFL chief operating officer Ralph Rimmer believes 2015 will produce more drama and excitement than ever before.
Round 1 of the Championship takes place this weekend whilst the League 1 clubs enter the fray with the first round of the League 1 Cup at the end of the month and Rimmer has no doubts that supporters are in for a treat.
Speaking at the launch of the 2015 Kingstone Press Championship and League 1 in Manchester, Rimmer said the stakes have never been higher following the return of promotion and relegation.
“There is always a keen sense of anticipation before the start of every season but the excitement has never been greater than in the last few weeks and months, and with good reason,” said Rimmer.
“The Championship and League 1 clubs have become a byword for fast, entertaining, open rugby and the new league structure, which allows for meaningful and sustainable promotion and relegation, will see that reputation enhanced.
“The phrase ‘every minute matters’ applies as much to the Championship and League 1 as it does Super League and with a wealth of talent spread across both competitions, the intensity levels will be unparalleled.
“The Summer Bash at Blackpool on the Bank Holiday weekend of May 23 and 24 is a fantastic concept which I am sure Championship fans will fully embrace, just as they will the Super 8s towards the end of the summer.”
This year also sees the newly-renamed Kingstone Press League 1 take on an even more geographically diverse feel following the introduction of Coventry Bears, who take their place in a 14-team competition that will culminate with two clubs being guaranteed promotion to the Championship in 2016.
The 12 Championship clubs will play 23 rounds in 2015 – home and away against each other plus the Summer Bash fixture – before the top four join the bottom four in the First Utility Super League in the Super 8 group known as the ‘Qualifiers.’
Those eight clubs will play seven matches in a new mini-league with home and away fixtures determined by finishing positions at the end of the regular season. After seven rounds, the top three clubs will go into Super League in 2016 with the final place in the top flight determined by the Million Pound Game, a unique winner-takes-all fixture which sees the fourth-placed club host the fifth-placed team.
The teams finishing the regular season in positions five to 12 will contest the ‘Kingstone Press Championship Shield’ Super 8 pool.
Gordon Johncox, managing director of Kingstone Press, said: “We are thrilled that we continue to be title sponsors of the Kingstone Press Championship and Kingstone Press League 1, especially at such an important time in the competitions’ history.
“This is the third year of our involvement in Rugby League and I am sure the fantastic relationships we have established with the sport’s clubs and supporters in that time will grow still further as a direct consequence of the exciting new league structure that is now in place.
“Summer Bash, the League 1 Cup and the Million Pound Game are terrific new additions to competitions that have become synonymous with superb entertainment and everyone at Kingstone Press is looking forward to playing their full part in what I am sure will be an outstanding sporting success story.”
The 2015 Kingstone Press Championship first round fixtures in full are as follows:
Friday February 13
Dewsbury Rams v Sheffield Eagles (8.00)
Sunday February 15
Batley Bulldogs v Workington Town (3.00)
Leigh Centurions v Bradford Bulls (3.00)
London Broncos v Doncaster (3.00)
Whitehaven v Halifax (3.00)
Monday February 16
Featherstone Rovers v Hunslet Hawks (7.30)
The League 1 Cup first round fixtures in full are as follows:
Saturday February 28
Oxford v Newcastle Thunder (3.00)
Sunday March 1
Keighley Cougars v East Leeds (3.00)
West Hull v North Wales Crusaders (3.00)
Swinton Lions v Hemel Stags (3.00)
Barrow Raiders v University of Gloucestershire All Golds (2.00)
Oldham v Coventry Bears (3.00)
Rochdale Hornets v South Wales Scorpions (3.00)
London Skolars v York City Knights (3.00)