This weekend sees the start of a new cup competition as all 14 Kingstone Press League 1 sides and two community sides from the amateur game compete for the League 1 Cup.
The competition replaces the Northern Rail Cup which was a hugely popular trophy in the Championship divisions and is another exciting addition to the RL New Era.
Only three wins stands between the sides competing in the inaugural competition and a place in the showpiece final, which will be held at Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road on the 23rd May as part of the Summer Bash weekend.
This weekend the journey to Blackpool begins, and here are the first round ties which will be played over Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday February 28
Oxford RLFC v Newcastle Thunder (3.00)
The newly named Newcastle Thunder start their competitive season with a trip to Oxford as Stanley Gene’s men experience a ‘new era’ of their own.
Formerly Gateshead Thunder, they will be hoping to get their 2015 season up and running with a victory but will have a tough task on their hands in Oxford.
Only one position separated the two last season yet despite finishing the highest of the two in third, Oxford failed to register a victory against the then Gateshead in three attempts last season.
The last time the two met at Oxford it ended in a 22-36 score-line in favour of Thunder so the home side will be looking for revenge this time out at Iffley Road.
West Hull v North Wales Crusaders (2.30)
The first of two amateur sides in the competition, West Hull, host former Super League side North Wales Crusaders as they look to cause an upset in the first round of the League 1 Cup.
The National Conference side completed a double in the Premier division last year as they finished top of the league and defeated Wath Brow Hornets 20-8 in the play-off final at the Select Security Stadium.
The Welsh side had contrasting fortunes in 2014 as they fell victim to the new structure, finishing 11th to become one of five sides to be relegated to League 1.
Hull will have their work cut out if they are to progress to the last eight of the competition however Crusaders should not tread lightly against the amateur outfit, as they will be well up for this one and have quality throughout which could cause problems to their semi-professional opponents.
Sunday March 1
Barrow Raiders v University of Gloucestershire All Golds (2.00)
A season of redemption is ahead for Barrow Raiders as they look to bounce back from finishing bottom of the Championship in 2014, with the Cumbrian outfit hosting Gloucestershire All Golds in their first round tie.
The All Golds narrowly missed out on the play-offs last year with a sixth place finish in League 1 and will be looking to go one better this season and challenge for promotion.
It will be a tough ask for Lee Greenwoods’ men but it will be a big statement if they can travel to Barrow and knock out one of the tournament favourites on Sunday.
This will be the first meeting of the two sides and will be a great start to their competitive seasons in a hugely anticipated new era.
Keighley Cougars v East Leeds (3.00)
It has been a tough couple of months for Keighley Cougars who will start 2015 in League 1 due to the controversial decision to overturn Batley Bulldogs’ points deduction for a dual-registration mishap.
The deduction would have seen Batley relegated rather than the Cougars, however they will have to come to terms with life in the third tier for now as they host amateur side East Leeds in the first round.
Paul March will be looking to lead his side straight back to the Championship although picking up some silverware along the way would be a welcome bonus.
They are another well fancied side in this competition however, last year’s seventh placed NCL Premiership side East Leeds will be looking to cause a huge upset and progress to the last eight.
London Skolars v York City Knights (3.00)
London Skolars’ first thoughts at this draw would have been ‘not again!’ as they host York City Knights who they fell victim to on three occasions in 2014.
Last year’s table toppers couldn’t replicate their league form in the play-offs and were knocked out by the eventually promoted Hunslet Hawks.
But three wins out of three over the Skolars, the latest of which was a 38-28 home victory, will give them confidence going into this tie.
Rugby League down south looks to be on the up and if the southerners can finally get one over on the Knights it would be a big victory to start their 2015 season.
Oldham RLFC v Coventry Bears (3.00)
The newest addition to the semi-professional game, Coventry Bears, start their new journey with a first round tie away to Oldham.
It is a tough start to League 1 life for the Bears as they travel to last year’s third placed Roughyeds who dramatically lost out on promotion to a James Coyle field goal, as Hunslet Hawks won the play-off final 17-16.
Oldham will be looking to go one step further in 2015 and climb to the Championship but the League 1 cup will be a welcome distraction.
Coventry won’t be a walk over though and will be out to let everyone know that they are not just here to make up the numbers and will thrive on being the underdogs in this tie.
Rochdale Hornets v South Wales Scorpions (3.00)
Rochdale Hornets finished last season 12th in the Championship and are bitterly disappointed not to be starting this season in the second tier, as they host South Wales Scorpions in the first round of the League 1 Cup.
Promotion is top priority for the Hornets however coach Ian Talbot has made it no secret that he would enjoy a day out to Blackpool and the possibility of picking up some silverware.
The last time the two met was in Rochdale’s promotion season of 2013 as they defeated South Wales 36-10 however, they were on the wrong end of a 30-28 score-line earlier in that season.
Mike Grady is an ambitious young coach who will be looking to improve on finishing bottom last year but his men will have their work cut out with a trip to Spotland on Sunday.
Swinton Lions v Hemel Stags (3.00)
Swinton Lions will host Hemel Stags in the first ever meeting between the two sides on Sunday as they both look to progress to the last eight of the League 1 Cup.
Hemel managed a fifth placed finish last season but where knocked out of the play-offs in a dramatic 15-14 loss to the then Gateshead Thunder, whereas Swinton finished second bottom in the Championship and were relegated.
In a hugely competitive division both sides will be looking to get to Blackpool and play for the trophy during the Summer Bash, however one of the two won’t make it past the first hurdle.
Lions will be favourites for this one but the Stags showed last season that they are a handy side in this division and are more than capable of causing an upset.