Sheffield Eagles coud start the season by playing at neutral venues

Betfred Championship clubs are exploring the possibility of playing matches as double-headers at neutral venues in a bid to get the season under way as soon as possible, writes PA Sport.
Sheffield Eagles are playing a waiting game.Sheffield Eagles are playing a waiting game.
Sheffield Eagles are playing a waiting game.

Although the Government has signalled the national lockdown could be eased in March, it is likely to be some time before spectators are allowed back in to grounds and so matches are set to be played behind closed doors in the early part of the season.

The Rugby Football League is currently negotiating a start date with clubs, having agreed to put it back from February 27 due to restrictions caused by the latest lockdown, and are looking at Easter for the Championship and early May for League 1.

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However, clubs could start earlier if they take part in the early rounds of the Challenge Cup, which could get under way as early as the weekend of March 14, with Super League clubs due to enter at the third-round stage a month later.

At their latest meeting, Championship clubs discussed the possibility of staging matches behind closed doors in the way that Super League was played for the last four months of the 2020 season and, according to an RFL source, several volunteered to act as hosts.

Super League’s incentive was to fulfil their television contract with Sky and, although there appears to be little appetite by the satellite broadcaster to show Championship action, it could be streamed live on the RFL’s Our League platforms.

That would enable clubs to reward season-ticket holders for their loyalty and offset costs by charging other fans on a pay-per-view basis.

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Because of the inclement weather in March and April, it is likely clubs with artificial pitches would be chosen to act as hosts, which would point to Widnes and newly-promoted Newcastle Thunder.

London Broncos play on an artificial surface but they are thought to be looking to move from Ealing after being told it would no longer be suitable to host Super League and have already agreed a three-year deal to use Rosslyn Park as their training base.

Super League has decided to start the 2021 season on March 25, a fortnight later than planned, and a meeting on Friday will discuss whether to reduce the number of fixtures.