The new Southern Conference League, which will include Welsh sides Cardiff Blue Dragons, Torfaen Tigers and Valley Cougars, was officially launched in Ealing on Saturday before a Super League fixture between London Broncos and Castleford Tigers – with official confirmation that the inaugural Grand Final will be held at the Aldershot Military Stadium in Hampshire on Saturday 14 September writes Ian Golden.
The competition, which brings together fourteen teams from the south of England and Wales, will begin on 27 April and run throughout the summer.
Representatives from Cardiff attended the launch and their chairman Alf Harvey is looking forward to the season ahead.
He said: “It’s been a big weekend for us with three separate events all happening back to back. It was great to be at the Southern Conference League launch at London Broncos. Meeting representatives from the participating clubs, and networking and touching base about the season ahead and expectations, just boosted our enthusiasm for the new season.
“We took part in the media activities led by the Our League team and spent some time chatting about our club to the RFL’s Chief Executive Ralph Rimmer, who is keen to see our sport grow in Wales.”
Cardiff Blue Dragons beat a West Wales Raiders Development side on Sunday, which gave Harvey even more reason to be optimistic. He added: “We are very optimistic after that victory. It allowed us to look at our shape and structure and while a 46-4 win was a great result, the scoreline wasn’t as important as the performance and attitude of the squad.
“And last night (Monday 25 February) our junior open training session for u11s to u16s took place at Glamorgan Wanderers. There has been a great deal of interest in our capital club and long may that continue.”
The Southern Conference League launch was attended by Brian Barwick and Ralph Rimmer, chairman and chief executive of the Rugby Football League, and also Jon Wells, the Castleford director of rugby and Sky Sports pundit, who retains a soft spot for the game in the south after his years as a player in London.
“We’re excited about this new competition, and the response it’s already received from the teams involved,” said Rimmer. “It will provide a higher and more regular level of competition for the leading players and clubs across the south of England and Wales.
“You only have to look at the amount of southern and Welsh talent in the squads of both the Broncos and Castleford to see how important it is for the game in this country that we continue to provide these opportunities – and another of the priorities for the SCL will be encouraging the clubs to look beyond their senior teams, and to encourage more children to take up the game.
“The Military Stadium in Aldershot will be a fitting stage for the inaugural Grand Final and we’re grateful to the continued support for Rugby League from the Armed Forces for making that possible.
“We’re also grateful to everyone at the Broncos for embracing the launch of the SCL, as another positive story for the game in the south to coincide with their return to the Super League this season.”
The East and West Divisions will run until August 17, the weekend before Coral Challenge Cup Final day at Wembley Stadium on August 24. The SCL will pause for the Wembley weekend before resuming with quarter finals on August 31 pitting the top four in the East Division against the top four from the West, followed by semi-finals on September 7 and then the climax in Aldershot.
Opening fixtures on Saturday 27 April are:
EAST DIVISION: Hammersmith Hills Hoists v North Herts Crusaders; Hemel Stags v London Chargers; South London Silverbacks v Brixton Bulls; Wests Warriors v Eastern Rhinos.
WEST DIVISION: Cardiff Blue Dragons v Torfaen Tigers; Swindon St George v Valley Cougars.
Bedford Tigers of the East Division and Gloucester outfit All Golds, of the West Division, are sitting out the opening day.