The RFL have confirmed the preferred structure of the 2021 season for Championship and League 1, and also a new format for the 1895 Cup.
The intention is for the season to begin with the return of the Championship on the weekend of February 27-28.
The late February start will allow a 26-round campaign in the Championship, meaning each of the 14 clubs will be scheduled to play the other 13 teams home and away. Then, there will be a Play-Off for the top six teams, and the £1M Game in October.
Full details of the league campaign will be determined early in the New Year, when a decision will also be made about whether it is practical to hold the Summer Bash in 2021.
Clubs have already agreed that games played behind closed doors will be streamed live on the RFL’s Our League platforms (app & website) on a pay per view basis.
The opening Championship round will be followed by the first two rounds of the Challenge Cup on the first two weekends of March, with the 10 clubs from League 1 kicking off their campaigns in the First Round joined by four Championship clubs.
However, only nine Championship clubs will enter the next stage, as Toulouse will not be participating in either the Challenge Cup, or the 1895 Cup in 2021.
This will then produce eight winners who will contest four Third Round ties two weeks later to join the 12 Super League clubs in the last 16 in April.
Those four teams will also qualify for the semi finals of the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup, the competition introduced for non-Super League clubs in 2019 to provide a second and more realistic opportunity of playing on Challenge Cup Final day at Wembley.
League 1 will be an 18-round competition, with each of the 10 clubs playing the other nine home and away. Details of the League 1 Play-Offs, and of promotion and relegation between the two competitions, will be confirmed in the New Year.
It has also been agreed that the league table in each competition will be determined on a points percentage system, as with Super League in 2020, in recognition of the likelihood of Covid-19 remaining a factor.
Fixtures and draws will be announced in the new year.
2021 schedule – summary
27th/28th February: Championship, Round 1
6th/7th March: Challenge Cup, Round 1
13th/14th March: Challenge Cup, Round 2.
20th/21st March: League 1, Round 1
27th/28th March: Challenge Cup, Round 3
9th/11th April: Challenge Cup, Round 4 ( Super League clubs enter)
5th/6th June: Challenge Cup and 1895 Cup Semi Finals
Saturday 17th July: Challenge Cup Final and 1895 Cup Final (Wembley)