The big Championship kick-off

Months of waiting come to an end this afternoon when the 12 Championship clubs kick off their seasons.

The opening weekend provides six fascinating match-ups.

Most neutral eyes will be on Mount Pleasant, where Batley Bulldogs host competitions favourites Leigh.

It’s fair to say it’s been an interesting 10 days for the Centurions following coach Paul Rowley’s shock resignation.

But the club moved quickly to appoint his assistant Neil Jukes and ensure an element of continuity, and he has a star-studded squad at his disposal for this season.

Still, it would be folly to underestimate a Bulldogs side that John Kear has strengthened significantly and who will relish the challenge ahead of them.

Featherstone Rovers also start the campaign confident they have a stronger side than 2015, and travel to a Bradford Bulls team again setting its sights on promotion.

There were plenty of promising signs in Rovers’ friendly win over a young Leeds side last week, and similarly the Bulls accounted for a below strength Castleford.

It isn’t going to shape any seasons, but the Provident Stadium clash should provide a decent insight into both teams’ prospects.

Halifax start the year with as much optimism as anyone given their considerable strides in 2015, and kick off their campaign at home to Whitehaven.

Coach of the Year Richard Marshall has made a small but shrewd number of additions to his squad, and all of last year’s key men remain.

Only Batley were as long odds to win today as Haven are when the bookies released their early odds, but James Coyle is much better prepared than at this stage last year, and his squad looks stronger.

Oldham kick off a new era at Stalybridge Celtic’s Bower Fold against a London Broncos team that were brushed aside at Dewsbury last weekend.

The Roughyeds have also made minimal changes to their squad with Scott Naylor placing faith in those that won promotion, and the club is hoping for its biggest crowd in years.

The Broncos – given that they remain full-time – will be keen to lay down a marker for a genuine top four push.

The second promoted side Swinton have been boosted by the late additions of Salford pair Liam Hood and Carl Forster (the latter on loan) ahead of their home game – staged at the AJ Bell Stadium – with Dewsbury.

The Rams have looked good in pushing St Helens hard and then accounting for London in recent weeks, and appear well placed to maintain the progress made under coach Glenn Morrison.

Finally, the competition’s fourth full-time team Sheffield Eagles travel to Workington.

Last season Town were edged out 12-14 in the same fixture, and if the heavy pitches in Cumbria play a part it could be another tough afternoon for the new-look, young Eagles.