With the beginning of March, there are signs that spring has finally arrived - and with it a significant weekend for Community Rugby League.
The National Conference League kicks off with a packed programme of 24 fixtures spread across four divisions, including two new names to give the Third Division new frontiers as Bentley host Hensingham in South Yorkshire, and Seaton Rangers take on Eastmoor Dragons in West Cumbria.
Thatto Heath Crusaders, the reigning champions, have a blockbuster opener against Siddal in the Premier Division, while there are a sprinkling of tasty local derbies including Skirlaugh taking on Hull Dockers and Wigan St Patricks clashing with Ince Rose Bridge in Division One, and Waterhead Warriors taking on Oldham St Annes in Division Three.
There has already been plenty of evidence of the quality of Rugby League being played in the NCL, with notable successes in the Betfred Challenge Cup for Lock Lane and Hunslet Club Parkside – and more broadcast coverage than ever across BBC Sport, The Sportsman and the RFL’s Our League web and app. Lock Lane’s cup run was recognised by Castleford Tigers, who invited the entire squad and coaching staff to their Betfred Super League fixture vs Hull FC - a great gesture after the amateur side’s memorable cup campaign.
Our preview for the opening weekend of NCL action can be read HERE.
This weekend also sees the start of the Betfred Wheelchair Super League, which includes three new names for 2022 in Warrington Wolves, Wigan Warriors and London Roosters - the latter two meeting in their opening fixture on Sunday, while Leeds Rhinos launch their title defence against North Wales Crusaders.
There has also been significant expansion in the Championship and League One competitions that underpin the Wheelchair Super League, with the likes of Sheffield Eagles and Wakefield Trinity preparing for action.
Sky have already confirmed they will again be showing the Grand Final live this autumn - check out their preview of the season HERE for a more detailed insight into Round 1 of the Betfred Wheelchair Super League, with a focus on newcomers London Roosters.
It’s a similar story in the Women’s and Girls’ game, with more teams than ever getting ready for 2022 - and the Betfred Women's Challenge Cup kicking off next weekend.
The Betfred Women's Challenge Cup will commence with four groups of four, with the top two teams from each group progressing to the quarter-finals. The knockout phase will come to a close in May, when the finalists take to the famous Elland Road pitch in a triple header that includes the Men’s semi-finals.
This weekend will also see the return of RFL Regional League competitions, with the Yorkshire Men's League and North West Men’s League kicking off once again. Our full preview for the opening round of action is HERE, and for the first time in 2022, all of the community game unites under the banner of Our League Active - the new participation membership scheme that will allow for the continued development and sustainability of the Community Game, with an array of other benefits.
Be sure to check out this video where some of the sport's most renowned figures have their say on what the Community Game means to them!
Student Rugby League has been running throughout the winter, but there is one especially resonant fixture this weekend which also signifies the coming of spring - the Varsity Match between Oxford and Cambridge - which is being streamed on The Sportsman for the first time.
It is now 41 years since the first Rugby League Varsity Match was played at the home of Fulham FC, Craven Cottage - late in the successful debut season for Fulham RLFC.
The Dark Blues of Oxford won the inaugural fixture, but Cambridge held the upper hand for the next three decades, winning 16 to Oxford’s 12 until 2009, with a single draw in the mud of London Welsh’s Old Deer Park ground in 1994.
However, Oxford then seized control with 11 consecutive victories including some absolute hammerings - until the Light Blues finally ended the run on home territory at Grange Road last year.
Oxford will be hoping to turn things around once again as they play host to this year's game.
Enjoy the Game
As we raise the curtains on the 2022 season, it’s important as ever to get behind the Enjoy the Game campaign.
Over the last couple of weeks, the RFL have held meetings with clubs to reinforce the Respect Code of Conduct and Enjoy the Game campaigns, which encompass all that is great about Rugby League. It serves as a constant reminder to create a welcoming and inclusive environment through respecting match officials, opposition supporters and one another.
Ahead of the season start this weekend, we’d like to share resources and encourage clubs to share them within, to familiarise ourselves with the Code of Conduct brochure and more. Please see HERE for further information on the campaign.
It’s a similar story in the Women’s and Girls’ game, with more teams than ever getting ready for 2022 – and the Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup kicking off next weekend.