30th January 2020, 14:16 | championship
The Betfred Championship returns this weekend with a bumper schedule including a repeat of last year’s qualifying final between Toulouse Olympique and York City Knights, which will be shown live on Our League, on Saturday evening (5pm).
Toulouse held a proud record at home in 2019 and beat the Knights when they met in the play-offs in September. However, Sylvain Houles’ side have now moved to Stade Ernest Wallon and will be looking to get off to a winning start at their now home venue. The French side have added some experience to their squad in Harrison Hansen and Frank Winterstein, both of whom could feature this weekend.
York have been equally astute in the off-season bringing in former Grand Final winning duo Chris Clarkson and Jimmy Keinhorst alongside Coral Challenge Cup winner Danny Washbrook. The Knights shocked everyone by making the play-offs in their first season following promotion from League 1 and could put down a marker if they were to beat Toulouse on Saturday.
The season kicks off on Friday night however as Leigh Centurions travel to Dewsbury Rams in the opening game of the 2020 season. Leigh made the play-offs in 2019 but fell at the first hurdle while it was a tough season for the Rams who avoided relegation by just three points. Both clubs have recruited heavily in the off-season with Lee Greenwood bringing in more players than any other Championship club.
London Broncos return to the Championship after suffering relegation from Betfred Super League on the final day of the season. They face a tough away game against Bradford Bulls – at their new home of the Tetley’s Stadium – with both sides having lost key components of their 2019 squads. Danny Ward will be looking replicate the success of 2018 while John Kear has made Bradford’s play-off ambitions clear.
Newly-promoted sides Whitehaven and Oldham both start their campaigns at home to Swinton and Widnes, respectively. Whitehaven were crowned as Betfred League 1 champions last year and will be confident heading into their game against Swinton, who have had a change of ownership during the off-season.
Oldham welcome a Vikings side under the stewardship of Australian Rugby League coaching legend Tim Sheens. Widnes finished in 11th last season – but were handed a 12-point deduction whereas they will begin the season with a clean slate in 2020. The Vikings have brought in former Lance Todd Trophy winner Matty Smith who will bring tonnes of experience but faces a difficult first game against the Roughyeds.
🗣️ "What do you think we can expect from @WidnesRL in 2020...?"— Rugby Football League (@TheRFL) January 30, 2020
⚫️ @AHendo09 and @kelsg101 talk all things Vikings ahead of the 2020 campaign in a bumper @Betfred Championship Preview.
📺 Watch exclusively on #OURLEAGUE from 6pm.
📲 Sign up now 👉 https://t.co/iIABs6fRxN pic.twitter.com/nlXGwtM20Z
Elsewhere, last season’s Million Pound Game losers Featherstone Rovers head to Batley Bulldogs with both clubs having new bosses in James Webster and Craig Lingard. The Rovers’ off-season signings – including that of former England international Brett Ferres – mean they’ll be looking to go one better in 2020.
Finally, Halifax meet Sheffield Eagles at the MBI Shay with both sides looking for an improvement on last year’s league performances with the play-off places firmly in sight.
Fixtures in full:
Friday 31 January
Dewsbury Rams v Leigh Centurions (7:30pm)
Saturday 1 February
Toulouse Olympique vs York City Knights (5pm UK/6pm CET) – Live on Our League
Sunday 2 February
Batley Bulldogs v Featherstone Rovers (3pm)
Bradford Bulls v London Broncos (3pm)
Halifax RLFC v Sheffield Eagles (3pm)
Oldham RLFC v Widnes Vikings (3pm)
Whitehaven RLFC v Swinton Lions (3pm)