For hundreds of open-age Community Rugby League teams, and thousands of players, the waiting will finally end this weekend.
Saturday May 8 was designated as the return of senior competitions when the RFL received the green light for training to resume earlier this spring – and the response at all levels has been hugely encouraging.
On either side of the Pennines, the North West Men’s League and Yorkshire Men’s League will kick off, with a combined total of 151 teams.
When Merit Leagues are included, that total increases to 185 – compared to the 155 expected for the 2020 season before Covid intervened.
New teams include Burtonwood Chargers, Mirfield Stags. Westgate Common, Saddleworth Rangers, Upton ARLFC, Newsome Panthers, Silsden Storm, Kinsley Hotel Raiders, Stanley Rangers, Woodhouse Warriors, Todmorden ARLFC, Illingworth ARLFC, Bilton Bears, Kingswood Knights, Scarborough Pirates, Cottingham Tigers, Three Tuns and Harrogate Fire Ants – with clubs such as Halton Simms Cross, Waterhead and Salford City Roosters running A-teams in the senior competitions for the first time.
Away from the game’s traditional heartlands, in addition to the Southern Conference League – with the East Division starting this weekend – there are more teams in the East of England League, the West of England League, the Midlands Men’s League and the London Men’s League.
There has also been a significant increase in the number of Women’s and Girls’ teams, as we confirmed earlier this week.
And the renowned Community clubs of the National Conference League are preparing to return in a new regional format later this month (from May 22).
Marc Lovering, the RFL’s Director of Participation and Development, said: “To have so many teams preparing for the return of competitive Open Age Rugby League this weekend is a huge tribute to the hundreds, maybe thousands of volunteers who have worked so hard to get to this point.
“The last 14 months have thrown up so many challenges for all levels of the game. This weekend really does feel like a time to celebrate.
“It’s a great time for us to get back, with the prospect of Lockdown restrictions easing further in the coming months, so our players can look forward to a full season through the summer, and the clubs can relish the prospect of opening up their clubhouses to generate much-needed income.
“We recognise that things still aren’t back to normal, and we’re still asking clubs and players to observe some restrictions on what they can and can’t do. That includes the ongoing frustration around supporters being able to attend matches, which is either forbidden or should be discouraged under the Government regulations - which is why we haven’t publicised fixtures in advance.
“But hopefully those restrictions will also be eased as the Lockdown eases over the next few weeks, and in the meantime we’ve come up with a Set of Six, making the current guidelines as simple as possible. Good luck to all involved this weekend – and on behalf of the RFL, a massive thank you to all who have contributed.”
Set of Six
As more of Rugby League's community clubs and players return to competitive action this weekend, the RFL is keen to remind everybody involved that the Coronavirus hasn't yet gone away and that sport isn't out of the woods yet. All participants and spectators are being urged to follow the RFL's 'set of six' to stay safe and keep Rugby League firmly on the right path.
1. Keep your hands clean
2. Stay socially-distanced wherever possible
3. Follow your club’s rules
4. Respect those around you
5. Self-isolate if showing Covid symptoms
6. And, of course, enjoy the game