Betfred Super League ball

Wakefield Trinity and Toulouse Olympique, the two teams favoured by the sponsors of the Betfred Championship to meet in the Grand Final in October, are both involved as an intriguing opening round kicks off with two heavyweight Friday night fixtures.


Trinity, who have been taken over and revitalised since relegation from the Betfred Super League last season, host Bradford Bulls in a West Yorkshire derby which has captured the imagination to such an extent that it is already guaranteed to be a 7,200 sell-out – meaning the highest crowd for a regular season Betfred Championship fixture since Toronto Wolfpack hosted Leigh in September 2019.


The match will be preceded by an official ceremony to mark the opening of the Neil Fox MBE Stand, named after one of the sport’s all-time greats – who had two brief stints with Bradford after his record-breaking period with Trinity, although it was his elder brother Peter who became more closely associated with the Bradford club as a coach.


Wakefield are 3-1 on favourites with Betfred to win the Grand Final, which will be played on the weekend of October 18-19 – with a significant uplift in prize money at stake for the winners of the Betfred Championship title from 2024 to reflect the fact that the introduction of club grading means that the Championship Grand Final winners no longer achieve automatic promotion to the Betfred Super League.


Toulouse, who were relegated from Super League in 2022 and denied an immediate return by defeat against London Broncos in last year’s Championship Grand Final at their own Stade Ernest-Wallon, are 7-1 second favourites behind Wakefield – with the Bulls fourth favourites at 12-1, behind Featherstone Rovers at 10-1.


But the French club have a tricky opening fixture in South Yorkshire against a Sheffield Eagles team who are not even favoured to qualify for the top six Play-Offs at 28-1 – but who are the only Championship team to have emerged unbeaten through five matches in the Betfred Challenge Cup and the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup, earning a Sixth-Round Challenge Cup tie at Wigan on Friday week, and an 1895 Cup Semi Final at York in May.


The other five matches in the opening round are on Sunday afternoon, with Featherstone making the short trip to Batley Bulldogs in one of two more West Yorkshire derbies, as Liam Finn’s first Championship game as head coach of his hometown Halifax Panthers is a short trip to face the Dewsbury Rams team he steered to promotion from Betfred League One last season.


Doncaster, who came up with Dewsbury after a Play-Off Final win against North Wales Crusaders, are hoping for another big crowd at the Eco Power Stadium for the visit of Andrew Henderson’s York Knights. The Knights are set to include Richie Myler, a Lance Todd Trophy winner with Leeds Rhinos in 2020 who is one of a number of players with extensive Super League and international experience to join ambitious Championship clubs in 2024, alongside the likes of Greg Eden and Gareth Widdop at Halifax, and Luke Gale and Jermaine McGillvary at Wakefield.


Dec Patton, a Grand Final try-scorer with Warrington Wolves in 2016, will make his Championship debut for Swinton Lions at Whitehaven, while Barrow Raiders, the other Cumbrian club in the competition, head south to face Widnes Vikings.


Sunday also sees the start of the Betfred League One campaign with Oldham, who are strong favourites to take the one automatic promotion place under the management of Mike Ford and head coach Sean Long, travelling to Workington Town.


Cornwall RLFC kick off their third season at Keighley Cougars; Hunslet host Newcastle Thunder; and Midlands Hurricanes will break new ground as they play in the Alexandra Stadium for the first time against Rochdale Hornets.


Betfred Championship odds (to win the Grand Final):

Wakefield Trinity 1-3, Toulouse Olympique 7-1, Featherstone Rovers 10-1, Bradford Bulls 12-1, Halifax Panthers 18-1, Widnes Vikings 25-1, Sheffield Eagles 28-1, York Knights 28-1, Batley Bulldogs 40-1, Doncaster 50-1, Dewsbury Rams 66-1, Barrow Raiders 100-1, Swinton Lions 100-1, Whitehaven 100-1.


Round One fixtures


Friday – Sheffield Eagles v Toulouse Olympique (730pm), Wakefield Trinity v Bradford Bulls (8pm)


Sunday (all 3pm) – Batley Bulldogs v Featherstone Rovers, Dewsbury Rams v Halifax Panthers, Doncaster v York Knights, Whitehaven v Swinton Lions, Widnes Vikings v Barrow Raiders.


Betfred League One odds (to win automatic promotion):

Oldham 1-5, Keighley Cougars 5-1, Hunslet 6-1, Workington Town 14-1, Newcastle Thunder 20-1, Rochdale Hornets 28-1, North Wales Crusaders 40-1, Cornwall 100-1, Midlands Hurricanes 100-1


Betfred League One, Round One fixtures


Sunday – Keighley Cougars v Cornwall (1pm), Hunslet v Newcastle Thunder (3pm), Midlands Hurricanes v Rochdale Hornets (3pm), Workington Town v Oldham (3pm).