The Women’s Super League will return in April after an absence of more than 18 months.
Almost the entire Women’s Rugby League 2020 season was lost to the Covid-19 pandemic, interrupting the momentum that had been building steadily.
Leeds 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 – will launch their defence against York City Knights on Sunday April 18.
Castleford, who finished on top of the table in 2019 only to fall at the final hurdle to Leeds in both the Super League and the Women’s Challenge Cup, will play their local rivals Featherstone Rovers.
Warrington Wolves, one of the two teams who had been due to enter the competition in 2020, will finally make their debut against Wigan Warriors – while the other newcomers, Huddersfield Giants, will have to wait until the first weekend of May before they face St Helens.
However, the two newcomers will face each other in one of two Preliminary Round ties in the Women’s Challenge Cup a week earlier. 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 season, will be played behind closed doors at two central venues – Sports Park Weetwood in Leeds, and Victoria Park in Warrington.
The top four teams at that point 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 which 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 a playoff series.
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.
Thomas Brindle, the General Manager of the competition, said: “It has been a long wait, but this will be worth waiting for. 2021 is such a huge year for Women’s Rugby League in this country, with a home World Cup to anticipate, that it’s essential for the Women’s Super League to resume.
“We were excited about our expansion to 10 clubs, and I know that both Huddersfield and Warrington will be especially keen to get going after having to wait 12 months longer than they planned or expected.”
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).
Women’s Challenge Cup, preliminary round (Sunday April 25): Huddersfield Giants v Warrington Wolves, York City Knights v Wakefield Trinity.