The Championship is set to kick off this weekend for it’s 2023 campaign and with the huge recruitment drives across the 14 clubs which has seen both high turnover and high quality it’s set to be a brilliant season.
Leigh Centurions stormed the league last year as they strung together 25 wins in a row following their sole defeat to Featherstone in round two with Rovers finishing second but crashing out in the playoffs.
The side that Leigh beat in the Million Pound game, Batley Bulldogs, will go again and have incentivised fans with an incredible price cap on tickets to just £10 a game for all 13 home games.
Other sides in the mix will include the relegated Toulouse Olympique but reports of financial worries linger whilst those joining the league from League One in particular Keighley Cougars could also make a splash, after all they already made the splash of recruiting former Man of Steel winner Luke Gale.
Here’s a run down of all the games for week one including when and where.
Saturday 4th February
Barrow Raiders vs Toulouse Olympique: 3pm at Matt Johnston Prestige Stadium (Live on OuRLeague pay per view)
Game one of the 2023 season sees surprise package from 2022, Barrow, host relegated Toulouse in a stand-alone fixture that is available for purchase via the OuRLeague app.
Paul Crarey’s men came up from League One and managed to place fourth but without their star winger Tee Ritson who has moved to St Helens can they repeat that feat? Pre-season suggests yes as they’ve won three from three including a 10-try win over North Wales and victory over Super League Wigan.
Toulouse meanwhile have lost quite a few key players with Tony Gigot off contract, Romain Navarrete heading to Catalans and even Chris Hankinson switching to promotion rivals Featherstone. Their dual-registration with Catalans will prove handy for the season given a squad of just 19 men.
Sunday 5th February
Bradford Bulls vs Whitehaven: 3pm at Odsal
Halifax Panthers vs Sheffield Eagles: 3pm at The Shay Stadium
London Broncos vs Batley Bulldogs: 3pm at Cherry Red Records Stadium
Swinton Lions vs Newcastle Thunder: 3pm at Heywood Road
York Knights vs Widnes Vikings: 3pm at the LNER Stadium
Sunday sees the bulk of the action with 10 of the division’s 14 teams in action including one of the promoted new boys.
Swinton host Newcastle with the Lions having returned to the Championship at the first time of asking, albeit via the playoffs, whereas Thunder have new boss Chris Thorman returning and given their 15-man recruitment drive featuring three World Cup stars they could be a force to be reckoned with.
Last year’s third placed Halifax host Sheffield and with Tee Ritson having left Barrow it leaves Lachlan Walmsley as the standout winger in the division based on last year’s stats when he registered 28 tries. Joining him though is Italian international Jake Maizen and the Panthers could be one of the division’s highest scorers, whilst Sheffield have former Super League man Ben Jones-Bishop patrolling the wing for them.
London Broncos enter a fourth season outside of Super League but they finished 11th last season suggesting there’s plenty to do, whereas opponents Batley made it all the way to the Million Pound Game and will head into 2023 confident.
Home of the Summer Bash, the LNER sees York under new coaching in the shape of Andrew Henderson following James Ford linking up with Mark Applegarth at Wakefield, whilst John Kear leads Widnes again in a battle between two incredibly experienced coaches.
Last but not least on Sunday we could get to see Odsal bouncing again with plenty of good feelings heading into 2023 following an impressive recruitment drive with Jack Walker being the standout signing and the Bulls will play host to Cumbrian side Whitehaven, both sides looking to improve on their ninth and tenth placed finishes from 2022 respectively.
Monday 6th February
Keighley Cougars vs Featherstone Rovers: 7.45pm at Cougar Park – Live on Viaplay Sports TV (formerly Premier Sports)
The final game of the Championship’s opening round sees two of the most exciting teams from the off-season in terms of the business that’s been done with Keighley, fresh from League One success, managing to pick up Luke Gale whilst Featherstone are a whole new look outfit.
The Cougars were invincible in 2022 and they face arguably the toughest test to keep that winning streak going when they play host to Featherstone in this Monday night cracker. Rhys Lovegrove is building something at Keighley and he’s got former Man of Steel winner Luke Gale to guide the way with a team that has also recruited former Super League winger Ben Crooks.
As for Rovers they’ve brought in Sean Long as new head coach and have revamped their side with a bunch of signings including five who have come from 2022 Super League sides, whilst another arrives from 2022 Championship winners Leigh.
In Elijah Taylor they’ve brought in a proven leader whilst the youth of Mathieu Cozza from Catalans keeps their forward pack fresh and ready for when big McKenzie Yei, the PNG World Cup star, comes on and uses his power.
A brilliant round of Championship rugby league with stand-alone Saturday and Monday fixtures and a Sunday packed full of games to get your teeth into.
Barrow 26-22 Toulouse Olympique
Bradford 30-8 Whitehaven
Halifax Panthers 28-14 Sheffield Eagles
London Broncos 16-22 Batley Bulldogs
Swinton Lions 18 24 Newcastle Thunder
York Knights 16-20 Widnes Vikings
Keighley Cougars 10-18 Featherstone Rovers