CO-OPERATIVE RUGBY LEAGUE CONFERENCE NATIONAL, the elite division of the summer community game and the level below the Championship, will have three new sides in 2011 which will see the competition truly live up to its name.

Current Champions Warrington Wizards – who defeated Huddersfield Underbank Rangers 23-18 in a thrilling Grand Final at the Halliwell Jones Stadium last September – will face stiff challenges from Coventry Bears, Welsh Conference champions Valley Cougars and Gateshead Lightning as the RLCN expands to eleven clubs.

Dan Steel, RFL Regional Manager for London & the South East, who is the competition’s lead officer commented, “The Conference pyramid is getting stronger by the season as the competition as a whole continues to go from strength to strength.”

“Each of the newcomers knows exactly what to expect from stepping up a level and, after a rigorous vetting process, have had their excellent applications accepted.”

“Last season was rated by many as the best ever on the field,” he continued, “and the management group are confident that the inclusion of the trio will maintain that. These continue to be exciting times for the Co-operative Rugby League Conference.”

It is not quite a voyage into the unknown for any of the incomers. When the competition was known as National League Three, before the advent of Conference Premier Divisions, COVENTRY BEARS tasted glory in what was their finest hour, taking the title in 2004.

They are hoping to emulate that success by renewing their association with Coventry RFC which will see the Bears returning to play their home fixtures at the Butts Park Arena, the site of the original Coventry Northern Union side that played prior to the First World War.

Harry Jepson Trophy runners-up for the past two seasons, the Midlands champions see their return to the national stage as an opportunity to once again showcase rugby league to the many oval ball fans in Coventry and the West Midlands.

Head Coach Alan Robinson said, “Playing at The Butts Arena will offer a new, high profile game day experience while also helping us attract new sponsors and players. It is a move which shows that both codes of rugby can work together. Returning to The Butts is a really exciting prospect for everyone involved in the club.”

Nelson-based VALLEY COUGARS will celebrate their tenth season in existence with promotion to the national tier and will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of the then Celtic Crusaders Colts, who in their sole campaign won the title in 2008.

Cougars’ president and Wales Rugby League executive chairman Mark Rowley said, “We are delighted that the Rugby Football League has accepted our application to be promoted into the Conference National. It means that up and coming Rugby League players in Wales will have another step on the ladder to professional Rugby League.”

“The Cougars will play in the division below South Wales Scorpions now and the two sides will have a strong link. With the Scorpions having a similar arrangement of sorts with the Crusaders on the dual registration rule, we feel that a pathway for Rugby League players in the Principality is looking more and more complete by the year.”

“At the other end of the spectrum, if players at Welsh Conference Premier clubs have the ability to step up a level, the Cougars will give them that opportunity. It’s all exciting times for the code in Wales.”

GATESHEAD Thunder are also looking to join up the pathway in the north east and have entered a side to be known as the LIGHTNING. Director of Rugby Chris Hood commented, “We are very excited about joining one of Rugby League’s premier competitions against teams with a long and rich history. We feel that this arena will challenge our players and give them a level of competition that is appropriate to their current playing ability.”

“This is another piece in the jigsaw of our performance pathway as we now have an Extended Scholarship programme, our Under 18s playing in the Gillette National Youth League and our first team competing in Co-operative Championship One.”

“We are already looking forward to all teams visiting Gateshead next season.”

In other news, KIPPAX KNIGHTS, who made the play offs in their debut season in 2010, will have a new man at the coaching helm after Dean Buckler joined the staff at Sheffield Eagles.
They have moved quickly to appoint a new head coach in ex-Halifax, Dewsbury and Hunslet Hawks player Danny Burton who will be assisted by Scott Goodall.

Burton is eagerly anticipating his new role. “It is a mixture of excitement and anticipation along with great pride to be selected as Knights coach,” he said.  “Kippax have always been a very good club producing some great players. I am hoping that I create an environment that allows them to express themselves. If they do I believe that the team really will compete.”

“I am looking for us to improve each week and, if we can, aiming to finish in the top four. Then we will be in the mix and I would fancy the team we are building to upset a few in the play-offs.”

During last season Carlisle Centurions and Liverpool Buccaneers expressed a desire to play at Conference Premier level and the format for that competition and the expanded RLC Regional will be unveiled soon.

Bramley Buffaloes
Coventry Bears                          
Dewsbury Celtic
Featherstone Lions
Gateshead Lightning
Hemel Stags
Huddersfield Underbank Rangers
Kippax Knights
Nottingham Outlaws
Valley Cougars
Warrington Wizards