Players from clubs competing in the new Southern Conference League (Image by the RFL)
“IT WILL PROVIDE A HIGHER AND MORE REGULAR LEVEL OF COMPETITION FOR THE LEADING PLAYERS AND CLUBS ACROSS THE SOUTH OF ENGLAND AND WALES.”
The new Southern Conference League was officially launched at Ealing Trailfinders before the televised Betfred Super League fixture between London Broncos and Castleford Tigers on Saturday.
The competition, which brings together 14 teams from the south of England and Wales, will begin on April 27, and run throughout the summer – with official confirmation that the inaugural Grand Final will be held at the Aldershot Military Stadium in Hampshire on Saturday 14 September.
The All Golds have a bye on the first weekend of the new competition and kick off their campaign the following weekend (4 May) with a trip to Valley Cougars.
The 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 passion for the game in the south after spending six 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.”
David Hughes, the chairman of London Broncos, wrote in Saturday’s match programme: “We are very pleased that London was chosen to launch the new RFL Southern Conference League. It’s great to see so many clubs playing down here in the south of the country at such a good standard.
“London is becoming a hotbed of our sport with ourselves, London Skolars and all the clubs represented at the launch playing on a regular basis, and it’s great that pathways to the professional game are becoming more accessible.”
Bob Brown, the long-serving chairman of Hemel Stags who will play in the SCL after a number of seasons in Betfred League One, added: “It was good for us to have this new level of competition available.
“It’s been a good week for the club with a couple of our junior players included in the England Youth National Performance Squad, and we’re looking forward to playing in this new competition.”
All Golds’ captain Ash Lewis attended the event and was confident ahead of the new campaign. “Not looking to sound big-headed but I think we are the team others should look out for this season.
“We don’t know too much about the other teams especially those in the East but we played North Herts in the Harry Jepson final and they were a big side and played very well. The Chargers are good and Hammersmith are a decent side, too.”
The East and West Divisions will run until August 17, the weekend before Coral Challenge Cup Final day at Wembley Stadium on 24 August.
The SCL will pause for the Wembley weekend before resuming with quarter finals on 31 August pitting the top four in the East Division against the top four from the West, followed by semi finals on 7 September and then the climax in Aldershot.
Southern Conference League opening fixtures (April 27):
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
The SCL fixtures will be available on the RFL’s website shortly, though followers of the All Golds can view their team’s schedule on this page