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Championship thrills and spills for Knights
RUGBY Football League chiefs reckon the 2013 Championships will be the “most exciting” yet – although the season’s official launch took place without a sponsor on board.
All 23 teams, plus Northern Rail, who sponsor the League Cup competition, and broadcasters Premier Sports, were represented for the annual launch at Sheffield’s Mercure St Paul’s Hotel.
There was no mention of a new league sponsor, but the RFL’s chief operating officer, Ralph Rimmer, lauded the fare he believes will be on offer.
“With the Championship embracing changes and expanding to become a 14-team competition, it promises to be one of the most competitive leagues we have ever seen,” he said.
“All 14 clubs are capable of beating one another and I feel certain we will be treated to captivating action.”
He added: “The Northern Rail Cup also promises to deliver an intriguing competition with the Championship One clubs battling it out to earn a spot in the knock-out stages, and, with Premier Sports back on board, I look forward to watching some top-class action.”
The Championship kicks off next Thursday when Halifax and champions Sheffield meet in front of the Premier Sports cameras.
The rest of the games take place next weekend, with York City Knights, represented yesterday by coach Gary Thornton and captain James Ford, beginning their campaign at Whitehaven on the Sunday.
A reshuffle of the league has seen four teams promoted from Championship One to join last season’s ten Championship clubs.
Additionally, the play-offs this season will feature eight teams, not six, to mirror the system in Super League.
In Championship One, expansion clubs Hemel Stags, Oxford and Gloucestershire All Golds have all made the step up to the pro ranks for the first time to make a nine-team tier – and the most geographically diverse competition in pro rugby league history.
A two-up, two-down promotion and relegation system between the divisions will be reintroduced this year.
The Northern Rail Cup has also been restructured with Championship One clubs being split into two groups, the winners of which will join the 14 Championship clubs in straight knock-out rounds. Those group games start at Easter.
Meanwhile, first-teamers Richard Horne, Richard Whiting and Paul Johnson, the new recruit from Wakefield, will be in the Hull team that visit York City Knights on Sunday for both clubs’ final friendly of pre-season.
Eight players who have signed dual-registration or loan forms with the Championship club are also in the Airlie Birds’ starting XIII.
All eight have a chance of being named in the Knights team that kick off their season at Whitehaven a week later, although Championship clubs can only field a maximum of five borrowed players in any one game.
The seven dual-reg players are former York College speedster Tom Lineham, full-back Jamie Shaul, centre Ben Crooks, winger Jack Briscoe, and forwards Chris Green, Josh Bowden and Dean Hadley. Half-back Danny Nicklas, who will be on loan at York, also plays for the visitors.
Knights general manager Ian Wilson said: “It’s a strange one because we want to win, but we also want these Hull lads to be in good form.”