Championship
Current season, competition or edition:
Current sports event 2024 RFL Championship
SportRugby league
Founded2003; 21 years ago (2003)
No. of teams14
Country England
 France
Most recent
champion(s)
London Broncos
(1st title)
Most titles Leigh Leopards
(5 titles)
TV partner(s)
Level on pyramid2
Relegation toLeague One
Domestic cup(s)Challenge Cup
1895 Cup
Official websiteChampionship

The Rugby Football League Championship, (known as the Betfred Championship for sponsorship reasons) is the second highest division of rugby league in Britain (with one team in the league also being based in France) after the Super League.[2]

Introduced in 2003 as National League One, it replaced the existing Second Division. It was rebranded as the Championship in 2009.

The league consists of 14 teams, with the winner decided by a playoff and relegation to League One. The current champions are London Broncos, winners of the 2023 season after beating Toulouse Olympique in the Championship Grand Final to win promotion to Super League 2024.

History

1902–1973: Establishment and regular competition

Second division rugby league competitions have been played at various times since 1902, and have been in place annually since 1973. When Super League began in 1996, the second division continued to operate a system of promotion and relegation with the new competition. In 1999, the second-tier competition below the Super League was renamed the Northern Ford Premiership (NFP) when Northern Ford Dealers acquired the naming rights.

2002–2008: National Leagues

In 2003, the NFP was re-organised into National Leagues One and Two. Teams that finished in the top ten league positions of the 2002 Northern Ford Premiership joined National League One and the bottom eight joined National League Two. They were joined by London Skolars from the Rugby League Conference, who entered National League Two, and York City Knights, who replaced the defunct York Wasps (who had folded mid-season in 2002) and also joined National League Two in 2003, creating two ten-team leagues which operated a system of promotion and relegation between themselves while also maintaining the promotion and relegation between National League One and Super League. At the same time, National League Three was created with teams from the Rugby League Conference and from the British Amateur Rugby League Association amateur leagues. It was intended that there would be promotion and relegation between National League Two and National League Three when League Three became more established, however this never eventuated.

2009–2014: Championship

In 2009 Super League was expanded to 14 teams, with two additional teams being promoted from National League One. In turn, two additional teams were promoted from National League Two to National League One at the end of the 2008 season, reducing the number of teams in National League Two to 10. National Leagues One and Two were then rebranded as the Championship and Championship 1 respectively, with the change being implemented in time for the 2009 season. Championship 1 was later rebranded to League 1. During this period, a system of licensing was put in place which meant there was no automatic system of promotion and relegation between the Championship and Super League, although promotion and relegation continued between the Championship and League 1. Widnes Vikings were promoted to Super League from the Championship via the licensing system in 2011.

The record crowd for a club game at this level of competition was set in 2017 at KCOM Craven Park for the opening fixture of the season between Hull Kingston Rovers and Bradford Bulls with Rovers winning 54–24 in front of a crowd of 8,817. The crowd record for regular season attendance was also broken in 2008 with an average of 2,205 spectators at each game.

2015–2018: Super 8s

Main article: Rugby League Super 8s

In 2013, Super League clubs agreed to reduce the number of clubs in the competition to 12 and return to an amended system of promotion and relegation with a 12-club Championship competition. These changes came into effect for the 2015 season.[3]

Under the amended structure, the 12 Super League and 12 Championship clubs play a regular season of 23 rounds, including a Magic Weekend for both divisions. Following the conclusion of their regular league seasons, the 24 clubs then compete in a play-off series where they split into 3 divisions of 8 based upon league position:[4]

2019–2023: Return of playoffs

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On 14 September 2018, an EGM was called to discuss the future of the sport and a change in structure, as the clubs were in favour of scrapping the Super 8s in favour of a more conventional structure. Two proposals were put forward: one by Super League and one by the Championship and League 1;

Super League proposal: The Super League proposed staying with 12 teams who play each other home and away plus Magic Weekend and 6 loop fixtures (29 games). They also proposed a return to a top-5 playoff and the 12th placed team being relegated.

Championship & League 1 proposal: The alternative proposal was that Super League would expand to 14 clubs playing 29 games ending with a top-5 playoff. The team finishing 14th would be relegated and 13th would play 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the Championship in a relegation playoff.

After a vote, the Super League proposal was voted through was implemented for the 2019 season. The Championship clubs then voted for a top 5 playoff being used to decide which team will be promoted to Super League.

Clubs

Championship clubs
Colours Club Established Location Stadium Capacity*
Barrow Raiders 1875 Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria Craven Park 6,000
Batley Bulldogs 1880 Batley, West Yorkshire Mount Pleasant 7,500
Bradford Bulls 1907 Bradford, West Yorkshire Odsal Stadium 22,739
Dewsbury Rams 1898 Dewsbury, West Yorkshire Crown Flatt 5,800
Doncaster 1951 Doncaster, South Yorkshire Eco Power Stadium 15,231
Featherstone Rovers 1902 Featherstone, West Yorkshire Post Office Road 8,000
Halifax Panthers 1873 Halifax, West Yorkshire The Shay 14,000
Sheffield Eagles 1984 Sheffield, South Yorkshire Olympic Legacy Stadium 3,000
Swinton Lions 1866 Sale, Greater Manchester Heywood Road 3,387
Toulouse Olympique 1937 Toulouse, Haute-Garonne Stade Ernest-Wallon 19,500
Wakefield Trinity 1873 Wakefield, West Yorkshire Belle Vue 9,333
Whitehaven 1948 Whitehaven, Cumbria Recreation Ground 7,500
Widnes Vikings 1875 Widnes, Cheshire Halton Stadium 13,500
York Knights 2002 York, North Yorkshire York Community Stadium 8,008

Structure

Regular season

There are 14 clubs in the Championship. During the course of the season (usually from February to September) each club plays the other twice, once at their home stadium and once at their opponents. Altogether clubs play 26 games.

Teams receive two points for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss.

Teams are ranked by competition points, points difference (points scored less points conceded), points scored. The team finishing top after 26 games is awarded the League Leaders Shield while the two bottom teams are relegated to the League One

Play-offs

The play-offs have had various formats. Currently once every club has played 26 games, the top six teams qualify for the playoffs.

Round one sees 3rd v 6th and 4th v 5th. The winners then progress to the semi finals where the teams finishing 1st and 2nd enter. The two winners of the semi-finals meet in the Grand Final.

Results

For winners of the old Second Division, see Rugby Football League Championship Second Division.

Main article: Championship Grand Final

See also: RFL Championship Leaders' Shield

The champions of the Championship are determined by a playoff series at the end of the regular season. The team at the top of the league table at the end of regular season is awarded the League Leaders’ Shield. This has been the case for all but the four seasons of the Super 8s era where the league leaders were declared Champions and promotion was determined by The Qualifiers.

Year Champions Score Runners up Relegated
2003 Salford 31–14 Leigh Dewsbury
2004 Leigh 32–16 Whitehaven Keighley
2005 Castleford 36–8 Whitehaven Barrow
Featherstone
2006 Hull Kingston Rovers 29–16 Widnes Oldham
York
2007 Castleford 42–10 Widnes Rochdale
Doncaster
2008 Salford 36–18 Crusaders Dewsbury
2009 Barrow 26–18 Halifax Doncaster
Gateshead
2010 Halifax 23–22 Featherstone Keighley
Whitehaven
2011 Featherstone 40–4 Sheffield Barrow
Toulouse
2012 Sheffield 20–16 Featherstone None
2013 Sheffield 19–12 Batley York
Hunslet
2014 Leigh 36–12 Featherstone Barrow
 Swinton
 Rochdale,
 North Wales
Keighley
2015 Leigh N/A Bradford Doncaster
Hunslet
2016 Leigh London Workington
Whitehaven
2017 Hull Kingston Rovers London Oldham
Bradford
2018
Toronto
London None
2019 Toronto 24–6 Featherstone Barrow
Rochdale
2020 Season cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Leigh elevated to Super League
2021 Toulouse 34–12 Featherstone Oldham
Swinton
2022 Leigh 44–12 Batley Dewsbury
Workington
2023 London 18-14 Toulouse Keighley
Newcastle

Winners

Club Wins runners up Winning years
1 Leigh Leopards 5 1 2004, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2022
2 Sheffield Eagles 2 2012, 2013
3 Salford Red Devils 0 2003, 2008
Castleford Tigers 2005, 2007
Hull Kingston Rovers 2006, 2017
Toronto Wolfpack 2018, 2019
4 Featherstone Rovers 1 5 2011
5 London Broncos 3 2023
6 Halifax Panthers 1 2010
Toulouse Olympique 2021
7 Barrow Raiders 0 2009
8 Whitehaven 0 2 -
Widnes Vikings
Batley Bulldogs
9 Crusaders 1
Bradford Bulls

The Championship has been sponsored four times since its inception in 2003. Betfred are the current title sponsor.

The title sponsor has been able to determine the league's sponsorship name. There have been seven different title sponsors since the league's formation:

Period Sponsor Name
2003–2008 Nuffield LHF Healthplan National League 1
2009–2012 Co-operative Group Co-operative Championship
2013–2017 Kingstone Press Cider Kingstone Press Championship
2018–2023 Betfred Betfred Championship

The official rugby ball supplier is Steeden.[5]

Media

Period Broadcaster
2008–2011 Sky Sports
Premier Sports
2012–2013 Premier Sports
2014 Sky Sports
(Grand Final Only)
2015–2021 Sky Sports
2022 Premier Sports
2023 Viaplay Sports

TV

Sky Sports and Premier Sports shared the TV rights to the Championship between 2008 and 2012. After Sky only showed the Championship and Championship 1 Grand Finals while games were broadcast on Premier Sports until 2013. There was no TV coverage on the Championship in 2014. In 2015 Sky Sports won the rights to show the Championship including The Summer Bash, Championship Shield and The Qualifiers in a seven-year deal.

A two-year broadcast deal with Premier Sports for 2022 and 2023 was signed at the end of 2021. Premier show a live match every Monday as well as all seven matches from the Summer Bash. The deal also includes the broadcasting rights to play-off matches and the Million Pound Game.[6]

Premier Sports became part of Viaplay late in 2022 and was marketed as Viaplay Sports for the 2023 season.[7]

Radio

Regional radio stations have coverage of the Championship clubs but mostly only cover Super League clubs in the same area and give updates of Championship scores and results.

Academies

Reserve League

Main article: RFL Reserve Championship

In 2014 and 2015 Super League clubs were unhappy with the Dual registration system and wanted to form an Under 23 reserve leagues between the Under 19s and 1st team. Wigan, Warrington and St Helens were the first teams to propose the return of the reserve league where players could move from the under 19s and play with professional players before playing in the 1st team. A reserve league was set up in 2016 with a mixture of Super League, Championship and League 1 teams.

Dual registration

Clubs in both the Super League and the Championships benefit from the new dual registration system which was introduced for the 2013 season.[8] The new system is intended to complement the existing player loan system.

Dual registration refers to an arrangement between clubs whereby a player continues to be registered to his current Super League club and is also registered to play for a club in the Championship. The system is aimed at young Super League players who are thought to be not quite ready to make the step up to ‘week in, week out’ Super League first team duties but for whom first team match experience is likely to be beneficial for their development.

Match officials

Main article: RFL Match officials

All rugby league matches are governed by the laws set out by the RFL; these laws are enforced by match officials. Former Super League and International Referee Steve Ganson is the current Head of the Match Officials Department and Technical Director.

See also

Notes

References

  1. ^ "The list of Monday night rugby league Championship fixtures live on TV". 14 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Operational Rules". RFL. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  3. ^ Super League to become a 12-team competition from 2015. Superleague.co.uk (11 July 2013). Retrieved on 20 August 2013.
  4. ^ "Super League: Competition restructures confirmed". BBC Sport. 24 September 2018.
  5. ^ "Steeden become Official Match Ball Partner".
  6. ^ Craven, Dave (6 October 2021). "Championship seals broadcast deal with Premier Sports for live Monday night games". www.yorkshirepost.co.uk. Retrieved 29 October 2021.
  7. ^ Bassam, Tom (21 July 2022). "Viaplay acquires Premier Sports in UK£30m deal to expand UK offering". SportsPro. Retrieved 11 March 2023.
  8. ^ Wilson, Andy (9 February 2013). "Debate continues over Super League and Championship dual registration". The Guardian.