Doncaster RLFC get potential promotion lifeline after RFL confirm Championship expansion

Doncaster RLFC boss Richard Horne
Doncaster RLFC boss Richard Horne

Changes to the rugby league divisional structure could potentially hand Doncaster RLFC a second chance at promotion if they are not successful in the League 1 play-offs.

The Rugby Football League (RFL) have announced last minute plans to expand the Championship to 14 teams next season from the existing 12.

Original plans for the League 1 winners to be automatically promoted will remain, as will another promotion place being decided by the winners of a four team play-off featuring the side finishing second to fifth at the end of the regular campaign.

But the losing side from the play-off final will have a second opportunity at promotion and will face the team finishing bottom of the Championship Shield in another decider.

The Dons will secure a play-off place – and all but guarantee themselves a third place finish in League 1 – if they win at North Wales Crusaders on Sunday. This would line up a play-off semi-final against whoever finishes fourth with Workington Town, Oldham, Whitehaven and Hunslet all remaining in the battle.

York City Knights currently sit top of League 1, with a two point cushion over second placed Bradford Bulls with two games remaining.

Whoever finishes second of those two sides will be the hot favourite to win the play-offs, such has been the manner of their collective dominance over the division this season.

But the late alterations to the end-of-season plans have added a potential lifeline to the remaining play-off contenders, including the Dons.

Currently Rochdale Hornets sit bottom of the Championship Shield with three games remaining. Swinton Lions and Barrow Raiders could both still finish in last spot.

The RFL confirmed plans for a 14-team Championship in 2019 and an end to the current ‘Super 8s’ format across Super League and the second tier.

Instead, the 14 Championship sides will play each other home and away, plus the Summer Bash fixtures.

At the end of the regular season, the top five teams enter a promotion play-off with the winners promoted to Super League.

And the Championship’s bottom two sides will be relegated to League 1.

In a 12-team League 1, the top side will be automatically promoted with the sides finish second to sixth entering a promotion play-off to decide the second team to earn a place in the Championship.

RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer said: “As we have seen this season, the Betfred Championship and League 1 are strong, vibrant and highly entertaining competitions.

“We want to see both competitions continue to appeal to Rugby League fans and attract new ones.

“We have secured guaranteed promotion and relegation to Super League.

“It is vital that aspiring clubs, players, owners and fans can see their path to the top.

“We want to ramp up how we build value in Championship and League 1.

“This means more marketing and promotion including major focus games; streaming more games as part of a wider digital strategy – already underway with the streaming of Betfred League 1 games exclusively to Our League members; and working with broadcasters to bring these competitions to a wider audience.

“It also means focusing the investment where it delivers the greatest return for the sport.

“We need to now draw a line under the last period and focus on this together as we head to a home World Cup in 2021 and all the opportunity this brings to our clubs and communities.”