The 2021 National Conference League season will get underway on Saturday 22 May, in line with the Government’s roadmap for the return of grassroots sport, the flagship competition’s 49 member clubs have been informed.
Divisions have been shelved this year but will, it is envisaged, resume in 2022 in line with the four sections that were in operation thirteen months ago, when the first Covid-19 lockdown was invoked. The 2021 campaign will instead involve seven regional leagues of seven teams, in line with feedback from clubs, with cross-league fixtures to take place between all but those in the Cumbrian League.
The season will climax with a four-game Grand Finals day, on a date and at a venue to be confirmed.
Draft fixtures were released to clubs on Sunday 4th April, with observations requested by today, 9th April.
The seven regional leagues will comprise:
LEAGUE A: Askam, Barrow Island, Egremont Rangers, Hensingham, Kells, Millom, Wath Brow Hornets.
LEAGUE B: Ince Rose Bridge, Leigh East, Leigh Miners Rangers, Pilkington Recs, Thatto Heath Crusaders, Wigan St Judes, Wigan St Patricks.
LEAGUE C: Clock Face Miners, Crosfields, Oldham St Annes, Rochdale Mayfield, Saddleworth Rangers, Waterhead Warriors, Woolston Rovers.
LEAGUE D: East Leeds, Hunslet Club Parkside, Hunslet Warriors, Milford, Oulton Raiders, Stanningley, Siddal.
LEAGUE E: Batley Boys, Dewsbury Celtic, Dewsbury Moor, Eastmoor Dragons, Gateshead, Normanton Knights, Shaw Cross Sharks.
LEAGUE F: Bradford Dudley Hill, Drighlington, Featherstone Lions, Lock Lane, Thornhill Trojans, Underbank Rangers, West Bowling.
LEAGUE G: Beverley, Heworth, Hull Dockers, Myton Warriors, Skirlaugh, West Hull, York Acorn.
League tables will (given potential disruption caused by Covid-19) be determined on a percentage basis; matches that are not played will be treated as cancelled, rather than as postponed. Trophies will be presented to each of the sides closing in pole position.
The top two in each section, plus the third-placed sides in leagues B and F, will participate in a seeded knock-out competition, climaxing in a Grand Final. The eight first-round losers will be invited to take part in a Shield competition, while the 33 teams not involved in the play-offs will be offered places in a Trophy competition; first round losers will contest a Plate competition.
Chairman Trevor Hunt told secretaries: “Eighty-four per cent of clubs were in favour of starting fixtures on the first available date permissible by the Government, which is 8 May.
“However, after a great deal of deliberation, it was felt to be more appropriate to resume after 17 May, when the Lockdown Roadmap Step 3 is to be implemented.
“Therefore it is our intent to commence fixtures on 22 May, which will facilitate extra training weeks and will also allow NCL teams and Management to learn best practices from competitive games played in other leagues that may start earlier.
“We appreciate that some clubs may feel they are not in the best league either standard-wise or geographically but after many hours and re-writes we feel that we have put together a schedule that delivers local games, in some cases revives local rivalries, and creates similar-standard competitions as well as providing the opportunity for teams to test themselves against higher rated (2019 season) opposition.
“(The format) offers attractive fixtures with minimum travel whilst ensuring each and every club has an opportunity for success.”
Fixtures can be reversed, or played on free weekends, by mutual consent.
“Some clubs’ grounds may become unavailable at short notice for social events, weddings etc that haven’t been able to take place during lockdown,” said Hunt, adding, “Such events obviously generate a lot of income and all clubs should, if they are asked by opponents to reverse a fixture or play on a Thursday or Friday evening, willingly accommodate such requests.”
He concluded: “The vast majority of clubs will have the opportunity to play in at least 16 fixtures this year.
“We realise that this may be a very difficult season but it will hopefully be a unique one. Without promotion and relegation teams can give more game time to their younger or fringe players, which could increase team pools for next year.”
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