Opening NCL fixtures announced for live TV coverage

KINGSTONE Press National Conference League bosses have confirmed the matches that will immediately follow this Saturday’s Premier Division clash between Wigan St Patrick’s and champions Thatto Heath Crusaders by being screened live.

Viewers will be able to watch Rochdale Hornets go head-to-head with Egremont Rangers on Saturday 10 March and, seven days later, the cameras will be at the Division One derby between Featherstone Lions and Lock Lane.

Around 30 matches will feature throughout the 2018 campaign, all to be shown live on FreeSports channel 424 on SKY, as well as on channel 95 on all Freeview and Free-sat boxes, with games scheduled to start at 4.30pm.

Programmes will start at 4.15pm and, this Saturday, host presenter and founder of RugbyAM, Alex Simmons will be joined by his business partner and Leeds Rhinos second row Jamie Jones-Buchanan in the commentary box.

Former Warrington players Paul Wood and Lee Briers are also part of the line-up, while organisers have pulled off a real coup in acquiring the services of the inimitable Mick Morgan.

England captain Sean O’Loughlin, of Wigan Warriors, and fellow Kevin Brown of Warrington Wolves will also feature in Saturday’s show and Simmons enthused: “It’s going to be phenomenal day. We have put a lot of time into getting this off the ground but everyone has been absolutely marvellous in helping us to push it through.

“From the NCL management to the clubs themselves, nothing has seemed too much, and we just hope everyone thinks it is worth it on the day.

“We have a lively new team of presenters and Rugby League personalities who are all committed to ensuring our great game is given the exposure it needs at all levels.”

He continued: “We also believe there is some awesome quality in the National Conference League. By being shown live on Free-to-air TV, we hope we can attract a whole new audience and fan base for NCL rugby. Hopefully it will make more people want to play the sport too.”

Pats Chair Cath Taylor said: “We are all so desperately excited down at the club.

“To be the hosts of the very first NCL game to be broadcast live in its entirety is another piece of history for us.

“We feel so very much honoured to be selected and are determined to show not only our club but the National Conference League in the very best light.

“Having the reigning Champions in Thatto Heath as our opponents just adds extra spice to the whole occasion.”

Taylor added: “We will have our junior teams paying a curtain raiser before the game, and they along with everybody else are just so thrilled to have the chance to be part of this great occasion.”

To add extra spice to the occasion, Thatto Heath’s coach, Richard Owen – the NCL’s 2017 Coach of the Year – is a former Pats player and coach.

His chairman, Mike Denning, reflected: “Games against St Pats are always great occasions. It’s the old Saints–Wigan rivalry and even though it is not a Langtree Park, Knowsley Road, Central Park or the DW Stadium, the intensity and commitment is no less between these two teams.

“Pats are one of the great amateur clubs of the game, with a list of former players who read like a Who’s Who of Rugby League. But we too have our former stars who have made their mark, and in the end both clubs are all about getting people to play and enjoy Rugby League.

“Being in the very first televised match is a great honour for us, too, and we can’t wait to get on with the game.”

Taylor, meanwhile, revealed: “We have let our sponsors and business partners know what is going on, and asked them down, and we are putting a bit of entertainment on in the club for after the game. We don’t want to try and take on too much that we can’t control, however. It will be great to have the RugbyAM team down with us, and we hope we get a big crowd too, but in the end it’s a league game and we want to come away with the win.”

Looking ahead to the season’s schedule, Simmons said: “All fixtures could be subject to change, depending on a variety of factors, but at this stage we feel we have given every Premier Club a home game, covered every First Division team, and pulled in top fixtures from Division Two and Division Three.

“We’ve had a lot to do, and we will be at the ground from 9.00m on Saturday setting up for the broadcast. But hopefully it will all come together on Saturday afternoon, when we are looking forward to getting the show on the road, and then the dream comes alive.”