British rugby league system
CountryUnited Kingdom
SportRugby league
Promotion and relegationYes
National system
FederationRugby Football League
ConfederationEuropean Rugby League
Top division
Second division
Cup competition
Rugby league in the United Kingdom

The British rugby league system is based on a five-tier structure administered by the Rugby Football League.

Professional clubs

See also: List of rugby league clubs in Britain

The following is a list of professional and semi-professional clubs in the British rugby league system:

Professional rugby league clubs
Colours Club Established (re-formed) City Stadium
Barrow Raiders 1875 Barrow, Cumbria Craven Park (7,600)
Batley Bulldogs 1880 Batley, West Yorkshire Mount Pleasant (7,500)
Bradford Bulls 1908 (2017) Bradford, West Yorkshire Odsal Stadium (24,500)
Castleford Tigers 1926 Castleford, West Yorkshire Wheldon Road (11,743)
Catalans Dragons 2000 Perpignan, France Stade Gilbert Brutus (13,000)
Cornwall 2021 Penryn, Cornwall Memorial Ground (2,000)
Dewsbury Rams 1898 Dewsbury, West Yorkshire Crown Flatt (5,100)
Doncaster 1951 Doncaster, South Yorkshire Keepmoat Stadium (15,231)
Featherstone Rovers 1902 Featherstone, West Yorkshire Post Office Road (6,750)
Halifax 1873 Halifax, West Yorkshire The Shay (14,000)
Huddersfield Giants 1864 Huddersfield, West Yorkshire John Smith's Stadium (24,500)
Hull FC 1865 Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire KC Stadium (25,404)
Hull Kingston Rovers 1882 Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire Craven Park (12,000)
Hunslet 1883 (1973) Leeds, West Yorkshire South Leeds Stadium (4,000)
Keighley Cougars 1876 Keighley, West Yorkshire Cougar Park (7,800)
Leeds Rhinos, and Leeds Rhinos Women 1864, and 2017 Leeds, West Yorkshire Headingley (20,500)
Leigh Leopards 1878 Leigh, Greater Manchester Leigh Sports Village (11,000)
London Broncos 1980 Wimbledon, Greater London Plough Lane (9,215)
Midlands Hurricanes 1998 Birmingham, West Midlands Alexander Stadium (18,000)
North Wales Crusaders 2006 (2011) Colwyn Bay, Wales Eirias Stadium (6,080)
Oldham 1876 Oldham, Greater Manchester Boundary Park (13,513)
Rochdale Hornets 1866 Rochdale, Greater Manchester Spotland (10,000)
St. Helens and St. Helens Women 1873 and 2013 St. Helens, Merseyside Totally Wicked Stadium (18,000)
Salford Red Devils 1873 Salford, Greater Manchester AJ Bell Stadium (12,000)
Sheffield Eagles 1999 Sheffield, South Yorkshire Olympic Legacy Stadium (3,900)
Swinton Lions 1866 Swinton, Greater Manchester Park Lane (3,000)
Toulouse Olympique 1937 Toulouse, France Stade Ernest-Wallon (19,500)
Wakefield Trinity 1873 Wakefield, West Yorkshire Belle Vue (12,000)
Warrington Wolves 1876 Warrington, Cheshire Halliwell Jones Stadium (15,300)
Whitehaven 1948 (2010) Whitehaven, Cumbria Recreation Ground (7,500)
Widnes Vikings 1875 Widnes, Cheshire Naughton Park (13,000)
Wigan Warriors 1872 Wigan, Greater Manchester DW Stadium (20,000)
Workington Town 1945 Workington, Cumbria Derwent Park (10,000)
York Knights, and York Valkyrie 1868 (2002), and 2016 York, North Yorkshire York Community Stadium (8,500)

Non-British clubs


In 2005 the new franchise was awarded to Catalans Dragons to play in the 2006 Super League. To help make sure the franchise did not fail as the PSG franchise did, the RFL allowed the Dragons to sign players from other French teams for no transfer fee. They were also promised to be exempted from relegation for 3 years. In their first season they finished bottom of the league but Castleford Tigers were the team relegated. Over the next few years they continually improved and in 2007 they became the first French team to reach a Challenge Cup Final. In 2018 they were the first non-British team to win the Challenge Cup.[1]

In 2009 Toulouse applied for a Super League licence but failed; however, the RFL were impressed with their application and invited them to play in the Championship. In their first season they finished the season 10th but were not relegated due to it being their first season in the British structure. In their second season they improved finishing 8th but missing out on the playoffs. In 2011 they were relegated but chose to return to the French Elite One Championship after they failed to get into Super League. In 2015 it was announced the RFL had invited them to play in League 1 from 2016 in the hope they can get promoted to Super League.[2] Toulouse now play in the Championship, having earned promotion in their inaugural League 1 season of 2016.


This section needs to be updated. Please help update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (October 2023)

The first season of rugby league (1895–96) saw all the clubs play in a single league competition. The addition of new teams and the problems of travelling led to the league being split in two for the following season; into the Yorkshire League and the Lancashire League. In the 1897–98 season Lancashire added professional second and third competitions, but the third competition only lasted one season. Yorkshire added a professional second competition (split west and east to reduce travelling) for the 1898–99 season. The bottom teams from the senior competition played a promotion/relegation test match against the winner of their county's second competition. This arrangement lasted until the 1901–02, when the top clubs from each league formed a single new competition. This saw the Lancashire and Yorkshire Senior Leagues elect numerous clubs from the second competitions (5 from Lancashire and 7 from Yorkshire) with the second competitions subsequently scrapped and teams excluded from the senior competitions joining either the Lancashire Combination (reserve grade) and a new Yorkshire Senior League or reverting to amateur status, either within the Northern Union or in the case of many Yorkshire clubs back to rugby union. However, many clubs folded and some even switched to association football. The following season most of the remaining clubs in the Yorkshire and Lancashire Leagues were re-organised to form a Second Division, although four teams from the Yorkshire League and two from the Lancashire league were not elected to the new second division (but South Shields who had played in no league in 1901–02 were).

In 1905–06, the two divisions were re-combined into a single competition. Initially clubs arranged all their own fixtures with the condition that they had to play teams they do play both home and away. After this a new structure was introduced where clubs played all the teams in their own county on a home-and-away basis, results counting towards the re-formed Yorkshire and Lancashire Leagues, although due to imbalance in number of teams it was common for a Yorkshire club to have to play in the Lancashire League. They also had home-and-away fixtures scheduled against a small number of teams in the other competition (usually three); all results were collated into a single table for the Championship. In order to even up the competition a top-four play-off series was used to determine the Championship.

Apart from the interventions of the world wars, this system was retained until 1962–63, when the league briefly returned to a two divisional system. This lasted only two seasons, and in 1964–65 they went back to one large division subdivided into county leagues, but the play-off were expanded to the top 16 teams.

In 1973–74 they again went back to two divisions. The play-off and the Yorkshire and Lancashire League were abandoned, though a new play-off type competition, the Club Championship was introduced to replace the championship play-offs.

The following season saw the title change to Premiership and the format was altered so that only the top eight teams in the First Division would compete. A similar competition was later instituted for clubs in the lower league(s). In the 1991–92 and 1992–93 seasons, a Third Division was played. However, the league reverted to two divisions for the 1993–94 and 1994–95 seasons, controversially demoting three clubs to the National Conference League in the process.

In 1996 the Premiership was replaced by the Super League. The clubs outside of Super League played in the First Division which now came under Super League, and the clubs that previously played in Division Three now played in a retitled the Second Division.

Between 1999 and 2002, rugby league below Super League was re-organised into one large competition, the Northern Ford Premiership. In 2003, the NFP was divided into National Leagues 1 and 2 with a National League 3 made up from sides drawn from the Rugby League Conference and British Amateur Rugby League Association winter leagues. It was intended that at some future point promotion and relegation would be allowed between National League 3 and National League 2, however, in 2006 National League 3 was rebranded Rugby League Conference National Division and plans for promotion and relegation were scrapped.

In 2009, the National Leagues were renamed the Championship and Championship 1. Between 2009 and 2014 automatic promotion and relegation between Super League and the Championship was replaced by a franchise system. Teams in the Championship would have to apply for a licence to play in Super League. Licences were reviewed every 5 years.

In 2013, it was announced that there was to be a review into the structure of the Rugby League system in Europe. Clubs, fans and sponsors were asked about their needs from the system. Three options were reviewed; one system using two leagues of 10, with the Super League and Championship having one promotion and relegation place between the two. The format of promotion was to be decided later. The second option was the same system, with Promotion and Relegation between the two, but with 12 teams in each division. The third option was most radical, and featured two leagues of 12, which would, after 11 games, split to three groups of 8. This would be mixed with a new funding structure. On 17 January 2014, it was announced the third option had been selected, but had been changed to split after 23 games, which would be a complete round-robin and an added fixture, the Magic Weekend. From 2015, this was decided to be the new structure.[3]

In preparation for the new structure, it was decided across the two leagues, Championship and Super League, there would be a season of realignment, in which five clubs would be relegated from the Championship, and one promoted to the Championship, and two teams would be relegated from the Super League to the Championship. This meant that the Super League, from 2015, would be made up of the 12 remaining teams from the Super League XIX season, and a Championship made up of the two relegated teams from the Super League, one team promoted from the 2014 Championship 1 and the nine remaining Championship teams. League 1, which would be modelled on the Championship, would be made out of the five relegated Championship teams, 8 current League 1 teams, and Coventry Bears.

Men's structure

Tier 1: Super League

Main article: Super League

The top tier of rugby league in the United Kingdom is the Super League. It features 12 teams with 11 teams from Northern England and 1 from France. The top six teams enter the play-offs and the winner is determined by the Super League Grand Final. The 12th placed team is relegated, from 2024 this will be subject to an off-field criteria as well.

Tier 2: Championship

Main article: RFL Championship

Below the Super League is the RFL Championship. A similar play-off structure which accumulates with the Championship Grand Final is used to determine the winners of the Championship and thus promotion to Super League. First place in regular season is awarded the RFL Championship Leaders' Shield, while the bottom two teams are relegated.

Tier 3: League 1

Main article: RFL League 1

League 1 is the final tier of professional rugby league in the UK. It currently contains 10 teams and sees the league leader declared champion and promoted, and a playoff system for teams two to six to gain the final promotion spot.

Tier 4: Conference League

The highest amateur league is the National Conference League for the heartlands, which consists of four divisions (Premier Division, Division One, Division two and Division Three) of up to 14 teams each, and Conference League South for elsewhere consisting of 8 teams. There is promotion and relegation between each division – three up and three down – for the heartlands competition. The bottom two teams from Division Three face re-election each year. Teams must apply to be promoted to League 1.

Tier 5: Regional Leagues

Below the Conference League are a series of regional leagues, some of which still play in the winter, teams must apply to get promoted to the Conference Leagues.


Professional structure since 2009; Amateur structure since 2012; Number of clubs have varied by year.[4]


Professional Leagues (RFL)[a]
1 Super League
12 clubs – 1 relegated
2 Championship
14 clubs – 1 promoted, 2 relegated
3 League 1
10 clubs – 2 promoted, 0 relegated
Amateur Leagues (BARLA/RFL)
4 National Conference League Premier Division
12 clubs – promotion via application to RFL, 3 relegated
Conference League South
8 clubs – promotion via application to RFL, 0 relegated
National Conference League Division One
12 clubs – 3 promoted, 3 relegated
National Conference League Division Two
12 clubs – 3 promoted, 3 relegated
National Conference League Division Three
12 clubs – 3 promoted, 0 relegated
5 City of Hull and District League
Cumbria Rugby League
London and South East Rugby League
East Rugby League
Midlands Rugby League
North East Rugby League
North West Men's League
South West Rugby League
Yorkshire Men's League
North Wales Men's League
South Wales Men's League
Scottish National League
(All division run parallel)

Women's structure

The women's conference was the top tier of British rugby league until 2014 when the RFL Women's Rugby League was introduced with the aim of creating an elite top tier. This became the RFL Women's Super League in 2017, and also saw a second tier RFL Women's Championship introduced. The RFL Women's Super League South was introduced in 2021 to run parallel to the Super League, however this would become a second tier competition in the restructured Championship which started in 2024.[5][6]


Structure from 2024.


1 Super League
8 clubs – 1 relegated (playoff)
2 Championship
3 divisions – 1 promoted (playoff)
(Scotland, Northern England)
(North Wales, Midlands)
(South Wales, South England)
3 Local Leagues
(Details TBA: All division run parallel)

See also


  1. ^ Various international leagues act as feeder league to the British professional league system. Promotion can be gained to tiers 1 to 3 from foreign leagues via application to the RFL.
  2. ^ Successor to RFL Women's Super League South


  1. ^ "Challenge Cup final: Catalans beat Warrington 20-14 to win first trophy". 2018-08-25. Retrieved 2019-04-11.
  2. ^ "Toulouse: RFL confirm French club for League One from 2016". 2015-10-13. Retrieved 2019-04-13.
  3. ^ "Super League clubs agree to 12-team competition from 2015". The Guardian. 17 January 2014. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "RFL reveal exciting national pyramid for growing women's game". 31 January 2023.
  6. ^ "New era for Tier Two of Women's Rugby League". RFL. 25 January 2024. Retrieved 24 January 2024.