Rugby League’s most geographically diverse competition, Kingstone Press League 1 will have a bold new look in 2016 with the introduction of a Super 8s-style format.
And a competition which already features teams from Oxford, London, Gloucester, Hemel Hempstead, Wales, Coventry and Gateshead, as well as Yorkshire and the North West, could have a cross-Channel flavour with the proposed introduction of Toulouse Olympique.
Toulouse, who competed in the Championship between 2008 and 2011, have been offered a place in League 1 for 2016 and discussions for their return to UK competition are close to completion.
Should Toulouse agree to the conditions of their entry, League 1 will become a 15-team competition that will provide eight clubs with a minimum 22-match season and seven clubs with a minimum 21 matches.
The season will see the competition follow a similar format to the First Utility Super League and Kingstone Press Championship involving the 15 clubs splitting into two pools at the end of the regular season.
The clubs will play each other once over 15 weeks before dividing into a League 1 Super 8 and a seven-team League 1 Shield.
In the League 1 Super 8, teams play each other once with the top four teams having four home fixtures and the bottom four having three home fixtures.
After seven matches, first will play second in the League 1 Promotion Final with the winning team promoted; the losing team will enter a four-club play-off with a home fixture against the fifth-placed team whilst second plays third. The winners of those two matches will then contest a play-off final for the second promotion place.
In the League 1 Shield, the teams will play each other once (three home and three away) before the first- and second-placed teams compete in a play-off final for the League 1 Shield trophy.
The 2016 season will again start with the iPro Sport Cup, with the first round draw made from two pools based on a geographical split. As in 2015, the 14 UK-based League 1 clubs will be joined by two community clubs in the first round draw.
From the second round onwards, draws will open culminating in the iPro Sport Cup final, played at the 2016 Summer Bash.
Should Toulouse not enter League 1 in 2016 an alternative format will be introduced, details of which are currently under consideration with the clubs.
RFL Chief Executive Nigel Wood believes the new structure is a natural evolution of the format that is currently generating considerable excitement and uncertainty of outcome in Super League and the Championship.
“The new structure brings an exciting edge to Kingstone Press League 1 that will see every minute matter for every club, just as we are seeing in Super League and the Championship this summer,” said Wood.
“I would like to thank the clubs for their positive contribution to the consultation process that has led to them embracing the new structure and giving it their unanimous support.
“We are thrilled by the prospect of the return of Toulouse Olympique to a competition which has already blazing trails across the UK. I am sure they will receive a warm welcome from all the League 1 clubs.
“Just as Catalans Dragons have enhanced Super League, Toulouse would bring much to League 1 as it continues to fulfil its role as an incubator competition for aspirational clubs.”
The RFL remains in dialogue with a Canadian consortium which is looking to enter a Toronto-based team into Kingstone Press League 1 from 2017 onwards and continues to carry out due diligence with all interested parties.