The National Conference League is the top league in the pyramid of amateur rugby leagues run by the British Amateur Rugby League Association (BARLA). Unlike the professional game, the majority of amateur rugby league in Great Britain is played in the winter months, and the National Conference is therefore a 'winter' league.

The National Conference League consists of three division of 14 teams each, titled the Premier Division, Division One and Division Two. There is promotion and relegation between each division of three up and three down. The bottom two teams from Division Two face re-election, but usually they are both re-elected as enough teams resign from the league to allow new teams entry.

The 5 regional leagues beneath the NCL are the Pennine League, the Yorkshire League, the North Western Counties League, the Cumberland League and the Hull and District League. There is also a Barrow and District League, however this is nearly all reserve sides with the odd team that can't afford the travelling costs involved in comepeting in the North Western Counties League. Teams from these regional leagues can apply for election to the National Conference League if they meet stringent minimum criteria.

The league structure is currently being reviewed, as Cottingham Tigers failed to start the season and Featherstone Lions resigned mid-season. Walney Central and Ideal Isberg are also struggling to finish the season. The proposal is a regionalisation of the lower divisions, however the last time a proposal like this was put forward there was strong opposition from the competing clubs.

Somewhat confusingly, the main amateur competition for clubs that wish to play a summer season is also titled conference: the Rugby League Conference (RLC). The NCL is seen as being the top division for 'traditional' clubs from the 'heartland' areas of rugby league, whilst the RLC consists mostly of clubs from other areas of the country, although there are a number of traditional teams now playing in the RLC.

There is no formal link form the NCL to any semi-professional league, as all professional rugby league in the UK is now played in the summer. Some NCL clubs have however chosen to "move across" to the summer structure in order to progress towards the professional ranks, one example of this being Warrington Wizards (who formerly competed in the NCL as Woolston Rovers) and Featherstone Lions (accepted by National League three).

Many of the players from the amateur BARLA teams go on to play for teams in the national leagues or Super League though this is not as common as in the past as professional sides now run their own academy sides rather than relying on recruitment from local BARLA clubs.

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