The RFL and the Betfred Championship and League 1 clubs are targeting a return in 2021 well before Easter – even if crowds are not permitted until April.
The clubs met virtually today and debated a number of possible fixture schedules for 2021 – all of which involve some matches in March.
That is likely to involve the return of the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup, possibly on a group basis in the early stages to allow the clubs to guarantee more home fixtures – and provide the realistic prospect of reaching a Wembley final next July.
The Easter weekend from April 2-5 will then provide the perfect opportunity to celebrate the end of the long Covid-19 exile by scheduling some of the derby matches that fans have missed so much in 2020.
The RFL will continue working on detailed competition structures and fixture schedules, which will be shared with clubs this month.
The clubs also agreed on the importance of working collectively to ensure that they are ready to host fixtures in 2021, if necessary Behind Closed Doors but crucially to provide a safe and enjoyable experience for spectators when crowds are permitted again.
The options around streaming matches for season ticket holders on the RFL’s Our League App and the introduction of games being available on a Pay Per View basis will also be pursued, building on the Betfred Super League games shown live on the Our League App since the resumption of the 2020 season in August.
Ralph Rimmer, the Chief Executive of the RFL, said: “The Betfred Championship and League 1 clubs are eager to get back out on to the field after such a long and frustrating period of enforced inactivity.
“Today’s meeting was an opportunity for them to consider a number of possible fixture schedules for 2021 drawn up by the RFL, as well as to consider the practical factors that will almost certainly remain.
“The timing of the Easter weekend at the start of April, when we all fervently hope and expect crowds to be permitted back at our grounds, provides something for us all to anticipate with relish.
“There has also been support for the continuation of the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup even in a shortened season, which will ensure that two clubs from outside the Betfred Super League reach Wembley in 2021.”
By Joshua Chapman