Almost the entire Women’s Rugby League 2020 season was lost to the pandemic, interrupting the momentum that had been building steadily since the Women’s Super League launched as a four-team competition in 2017.
However, with England Women desperate to make up for lost time as they prepare for one of the three Rugby League World Cups that will be staged here this autumn, the Women’s Super League squads were finally cleared to return to training last weekend.
Now, there is further clarity for all involved with the added details of who will be involved, when games will take place and how the competition - newly expanded to ten clubs - will look.
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Rhinos, who won their first Women’s Super League title in the last top-level Women’s Rugby League fixture played in this country – the Grand Final against Castleford Tigers at the Totally Wicked Stadium on October 11, 2019 – have that game against York.
Castleford, who finished top in 2019 only to fall at the final hurdle to Leeds in both Super League and the Women’s Challenge Cup, will play derby rivals Featherstone Rovers.
Warrington Wolves, one of two teams who had been due to enter the competition in 2020, will finally make their BWSL debuts against Wigan Warriors but fellow newcomers Huddersfield Giants, must wait until the first weekend of May before they face St Helens.
However the previous weekend the two newcomers will tackle each other in one of two preliminary round ties in the Challenge Cup.
York will play Wakefield Trinity in the other, with the winners joining the top-six from the 2019 Women’s Super League table in the quarter-finals in May.
Those ties, and the first 10 rounds of the BWSL season, will be played behind closed doors at two central venues – Victoria Park in Warrington, and Sports Park Weetwood in Leeds.
The top-four teams will qualify for the play-offs, starting in August when it is hoped crowds will be allowed, with the teams playing each other home and away for an additional six rounds of fixtures.
At that point, the top two qualify for the Women’s Super League Grand Final.
The other six teams will play each other once in a Shield competition, with the top four in that mini-table qualifying for Shield semi finals leading to a BWSL Shield Final.
The season structure also includes a two-match Origin series scheduled for July 27 and August 7, again to aid England’s World Cup preparations – which have continued through the winter with regular squad sessions at Sports Park Weetwood.
Betfred Women’s Super League, opening fixtures (Sunday April 18): Bradford Bulls v St Helens, Wigan Warriors v Warrington Wolves (both at Victoria Park, Warrington); Castleford Tigers v Featherstone Rovers, Leeds Rhinos v York City Knights (both at Weetwood, Leeds).
Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup, preliminary round (Sunday April 25): Huddersfield Giants v Warrington Wolves, York City Knights v Wakefield Trinity.