The Championship, known as the Betfred Championship for sponsorship reasons, is a professional rugby league competition. It is the second-tier competition organised by the Rugby Football League, the governing body for the sport in England, and consists of 14 teams, with promotion to the Super League and relegation to the third-tier competition, League 1. The current champions are Toronto Wolfpack. The league announced a two-year sponsorship deal with the bookmaking company Betfred ahead of the 2018 season.
|Current season or competition:|
2019 Rugby League Championship
|Instituted||2003–2007 (as National League One)|
2008–present (as the Championship)
|Number of teams||14|
|Countries|| England (12 teams)|
France (1 team)
Canada (1 team)
|Champions||Toronto Wolfpack (1st title) (2019)|
|Most titles||Leigh Centurions (4 titles)|
|Broadcast partner||Sky Sports|
|Related competition||Challenge Cup|
|Promotion to||Super League|
|Relegation to||League 1|
From 2003 to 2009, the competition was known as National League One.
1902–1973: Establishment and regular competitionEdit
Second division rugby league competitions have been played at various times since 1902, and have been in place annually since 1973. When Super League began in 1996, the second division continued to operate a system of promotion and relegation with the new competition. In 1999, the second-tier competition below the Super League was renamed the Northern Ford Premiership (NFP) when Northern Ford Dealers acquired the naming rights.
2002–2008: National LeaguesEdit
In 2003, the NFP was re-organised into National Leagues One and Two. Teams that finished in the top ten league positions of the 2002 Northern Ford Premiership joined National League One and the bottom eight joined National League Two. They were joined by London Skolars from the Rugby League Conference, who entered National League Two, and York City Knights, who replaced the defunct York Wasps (who had folded mid-season in 2002) and also joined National League Two in 2003, creating two ten-team leagues which operated a system of promotion and relegation between themselves while also maintaining the promotion and relegation between National League One and Super League. At the same time, National League Three was created with teams from the Rugby League Conference and from the British Amateur Rugby League Association amateur leagues. It was intended that there would be promotion and relegation between National League Two and National League Three when League Three became more established, however this never eventuated.
In 2009 Super League was expanded to 14 teams, with two additional teams being promoted from National League One. In turn, two additional teams were promoted from National League Two to National League One at the end of the 2008 season, reducing the number of teams in National League Two to 10. National Leagues One and Two were then rebranded as the Championship and Championship 1 respectively, with the change being implemented in time for the 2009 season. Championship 1 was later rebranded to League 1. During this period, a system of licensing was put in place which meant there was no automatic system of promotion and relegation between the Championship and Super League, although promotion and relegation continued between the Championship and League 1. Widnes Vikings were promoted to Super League from the Championship via the licensing system in 2011.
The record crowd for a club game at this level of competition was set in 2017 at KCOM Craven Park for the opening fixture of the season between Hull Kingston Rovers and Bradford Bulls with Rovers winning 54-24 in front of a crowd of 8,817. The crowd record for regular season attendance was also broken in 2008 with an average of 2,205 spectators at each game.
2015–2018: Super 8sEdit
In 2013, Super League clubs agreed to reduce the number of clubs in the competition to 12 and return to an amended system of promotion and relegation with a 12-club Championship competition. These changes came into effect for the 2015 season.
Under the amended structure, the 12 Super League and 12 Championship clubs play a regular season of 23 rounds, including a Magic Weekend for both divisions. Following the conclusion of their regular league seasons, the 24 clubs then compete in a play-off series where they split into 3 divisions of 8 based upon league position:
- The bottom 4 Super League clubs and the top 4 Championship clubs compete in The Qualifiers. They play each other once (either home or away) to determine which four of the clubs will compete in Super League the following year.
- The remaining (bottom 8) Championship clubs compete for the Championship Shield and to avoid relegation to League 1. Two clubs will be relegated each year.
2019–onwards: Championship Grand FinalEdit
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On 14 September 2018, an EGM was called to discuss the future of the sport and a change in structure, as the clubs were in favour of scrapping the Super 8s in favour of a more conventional structure. Two proposals were put forward: one by Super League and one by the Championship and League 1;
Super League proposal: The Super League proposed staying with 12 teams who play each other home and away plus Magic Weekend and 6 loop fixtures (29 games). They also proposed a return to a top-5 playoff and the 12th placed team being relegated.
Championship & League 1 proposal: The alternative proposal was that Super League would expand to 14 clubs playing 29 games ending with a top-5 playoff. The team finishing 14th would be relegated and 13th would play 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the Championship in a relegation playoff.
After a vote, the Super League proposal was voted through and is due to be implemented for the 2019 season. The Championship clubs then voted for the Championship Grand Final to be reinstated as a means of promotion with a top 5 playoff being used.
|Barrow Raiders||1875||Barrow, Cumbria||Craven Park||7,600|
|Batley Bulldogs||1880||Batley, West Yorkshire||Mount Pleasant||7,500|
|Bradford Bulls||1907||Bradford, West Yorkshire||Odsal Stadium||22,739|
|Dewsbury Rams||1898||Dewsbury, West Yorkshire||Crown Flatt||5,800|
|Featherstone Rovers||1902||Featherstone, West Yorkshire||Post Office Road||8,000|
|Halifax||1873||Halifax, West Yorkshire||The Shay||14,000|
|Leigh Centurions||1878||Leigh, Greater Manchester||Leigh Sports Village||12,000|
|Rochdale Hornets||1866||Rochdale, Greater Manchester||Spotland||10,000|
|Sheffield Eagles||1984||Sheffield, South Yorkshire||Olympic Legacy Park||3,000|
|Swinton Lions||1866||Sale, Greater Manchester||Heywood Road||3,387|
|Toronto Wolfpack||2016||Toronto, Ontario||Lamport Stadium||9,600|
|Toulouse Olympique||1937||Toulouse, Haute-Garonne||Stade Ernest-Argeles||4,000|
|Widnes Vikings||1875||Widnes, Cheshire||Halton Stadium||13,500|
|York City Knights||2002||York, North Yorkshire||Bootham Crescent||8,256|
- Seat capacity for other sports, concerts and events may differ.
The 14 teams compete in the Championship. They play each other once home and away interrupted by the Summer Bash. Two points are awarded for a win and one for a draw. At the end of the season the bottom two teams are relegated and the top 5 take part in the playoffs.
|Stadium||Location||Country||Highest attendance||Average attendance|
The current play-off system was previously used between 2003 and 2006 and is used by the Super League.
From week two onward the Top five play-offs system reflected exactly the Page playoff system.
|Super League 5 team play-off bracket|
The Top Five Championship Play-Off Structure:
- Qualification Final: 2nd vs 3rd
- Elimination Final: 4th vs 5th
- Bye: 1st
- Major Semi Final: 1st vs Winners of Qualification Final
- Minor Semi Final: Losers of Qualification Final vs Winners of Elimination Final
- Preliminary Final: Losers of Major Semi Final vs Winners of Minor Semi Final
- Bye: Winners of Major Semi Final
- Grand Final: Winners of Major Semi Final vs Winners of Preliminary Final
|2006||Hull Kingston Rovers||Hull Kingston Rovers|| Oldham|
|2009||Barrow||No Promotion|| Doncaster|
|2011||Featherstone Rovers||Widnes|| Barrow|
|2012||Sheffield||No Promotion||No Relegation|
|2016||Leigh||Leigh|| Workington Town|
|2017||Hull Kingston Rovers||Hull Kingston Rovers|| Oldham|
|2018||Toronto||London Broncos||No Relegation|
|2019||Grand Final Winners||TBD||Rochdale|
|1||Leigh Centurions||4||2004, 2014, 2015, 2016|
|2||Salford Red Devils||2||2003, 2008|
|3||Castleford Tigers||2||2005, 2007|
|4||Sheffield Eagles||2||2012, 2013|
|5||Hull Kingston Rovers||2||2006, 2017|
- Bold – Winners decided by Grand Final
The Championship has been sponsored four times since its inception in 2003. Betfred are the current title sponsor.
The title sponsor has been able to determine the league's sponsorship name. There have been seven different title sponsors since the league's formation:
|2003–2008||Nuffield||LHF Healthplan National League 1|
|2009–2012||Co-operative Group||Co-operative Championship|
|2013–2017||Kingstone Press Cider||Kingstone Press Championship|
(Grand Final Only)
Sky Sports and Premier Sports shared the TV rights to the Championship between 2008 and 2012. After Sky only showed the Championship and Championship 1 Grand Finals while games were broadcast on Premier Sports until 2013. There was no TV coverage in the Championship in 2014. In 2015 Sky Sports won the rights to show the Championship including The Summer Bash, Championship Shield and The Qualifiers in a seven-year deal.
Regional radio stations have coverage of the Championship clubs but mostly only cover Super League clubs in the same area and give updates of Championship scores and results.
In 2014 and 2015 Super League clubs were unhappy with the Dual registration system and wanted to form an Under 23 reserve leagues between the Under 19s and 1st team. Wigan, Warrington and St Helens were the first teams to propose the return of the reserve league where players could move from the under 19s and play with professional players before playing in the 1st team. A reserve league was set up in 2016 with a mixture of Super League, Championship and League 1 teams.
Clubs in both the Super League and the Championships benefit from the new dual registration system which was introduced for the 2013 season. The new system is intended to complement the existing player loan system.
Dual registration refers to an arrangement between clubs whereby a player continues to be registered to his current Super League club and is also registered to play for a club in the Championship. The system is aimed at young Super League players who are thought to be not quite ready to make the step up to ‘week in, week out’ Super League first team duties but for whom first team match experience is likely to be beneficial for their development.
- Only Super League players can be dual registered and the receiving club must be a club in the Championships, meaning that Super League to Super League club dual registrations are not available.
- A dual registered player will be eligible to play and train with both clubs in a format agreed between the clubs, subject to registration, salary cap and competition eligibility rules.
- The player is restricted to playing in one fixture per scheduled round of fixtures in any given week and would not be eligible to play for his Super League club on a Thursday and in a Championship fixture at the weekend, for example.
- A receiving club will be limited to a total of five dual registered players per matchday squad.
All rugby league matches are governed by the laws set out by the RFL; these laws are enforced by match officials. Former Super League and International Referee Steve Ganson is the current Head of the Match Officials Department and Technical Director.
- "Operational Rules". RFL. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
- Super League to become a 12-team competition from 2015. Superleague.co.uk (11 July 2013). Retrieved on 20 August 2013.
- "Super League: Competition restructures confirmed". 24 September 2018 – via www.bbc.com.
- BBC Sport (19 May 2005). "Super League set for 2009 changes". BBC. Retrieved 18 July 2008.
- Wilson, Andy (9 February 2013). "Debate continues over Super League and Championship dual registration". The Guardian.