If all goes to plan, Oldham Rugby League Club will kick off the 2021 Betfred Championship season on the weekend of February 27 and 28 with their biggest and best squad for many years.
Roughyeds, Dewsbury Rams, Newcastle Thunder and Whitehaven, plus the ten Betfred League 1 clubs, will then play in the first round of the Challenge Cup, the draw for which will be made later, on the first weekend in March. The four were determined by 2019 end-of-season placings in League One and the Championship.
Details of the plan have been released by the RFL, who say clubs in both divisions agree on the need to maintain flexibility given the uncertainty caused by Covid, while also recognising the importance of providing players and fans with a clear plan.
In the Challenge Cup, the seven first-round winners will join the remaining nine Championship clubs -- Toulouse Olympique are not involved -- to play in round two on the second weekend in March.
That will produce eight winners, who will contest four third-round ties. The four third-round winners will then join the 12 Super League clubs in the last 16 and will also qualify for the semi-finals of the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup.
In the Championship, the late-February start will allow a full 26-game competition in which all 14 clubs, including Oldham, are scheduled to play every other team home and away, leading to a top-six play-off with the £1M game in October.
Positions in both Championship and League One tables will be determined by a points percentage system, as with Super League in 2020, in recognition of the likelihood that Covid will continue to be a factor.
Games played behind closed doors will be streamed live on the RFL's OuRLeague platforms (app and website) on a pay-to-view basis, but home season-ticket holders will be given free access to live stream packages for their club's league games.