History of the Rugby League Conference


History of the Rugby League Conference

The Rugby League Conference (RLC), also known as the Co-operative Rugby League Conference as a result of sponsorship from the Co-operative Group, is a series of regionally based divisions of amateur rugby league teams spread throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

It was founded in 1997 as the "Southern Conference League".

History

Background

In 1895, several clubs in the North of England broke away from the Rugby Football Union (RFU), the governing body of rugby football in England, over the issue of player expenses.

This led to the great schism which resulted in rugby becoming two separate sports: rugby union administered by the RFU and rugby league administered by the Rugby Football League.

Although rugby league spread overseas, sanctions by the RFU made it more difficult for the sport to expand beyond its "heartlands" in the traditional counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumberland.

Earlier non-heartland competitions

Prior to the Rugby League Conference, there were several non-heartland leagues throughout England run by the British Amateur Rugby League Association (BARLA); the most recent ones being the London Amateur Rugby League, the Midlands and South West Amateur Rugby League Association (MASWARLA), the East Midlands Amateur Rugby League Association (EMARLA), the Eastern Counties Amateur Rugby League and the North Eastern Amateur Rugby League Association (NEARLA).

The Eastern Counties and the MASWARLA competitions folded and the few remaining teams were absorbed by the London ARL and the EMARLA respectively and teams in the North East of England and more northerly East Midlands were looking at playing in Yorkshire-based heartland leagues. However teams in the South of England had no such option, North London Skolars were even rejected from BARLA's National Conference League for the 1996-97 season.

A further major factor leading to the creation of the "Southern Conference League" was the fact that the professional clubs had switched to a summer season the previous year and thus interest in the sport in the winter was decreased. The abandonment of amateurism by the rival sport of rugby union in 1995 meant that it was now possible for rugby union players to play rugby league during their off-season without risking a ban from rugby union. This gave non-heartland clubs a larger player pool.

1997

The Southern Conference League began as a 10-team pilot league in 1997. The teams selected were not necessarily those with the highest playing standard, as off-field factors were initially considered very important. Furthermore teams were selected to represent medium to large-sized towns and thus some clubs were considered undesirable, either due to being pub teams or due to being in small towns based too near a large town with a club (the latter being one of the reasons St Ives Roosters were outside the league until 2003).

The initial line-up was as follows:
*Central Division: Birmingham, Leicester Phoenix, Worcester Royals, Oxford Cavaliers, Reading Raiders
*Eastern Division: North London Skolars, West London, Kingston, Ipswich Rhinos, Bedford Swifts

Birmingham and Leicester Phoenix had been playing in the EMARLA since the demise of the MASWARLA.

Among the newly formed clubs were Bedford Swifts, the first ever cross-code club (i.e. playing both rugby union and rugby league), West London (formed from a merger of two of the more successful London ARL teams Brent-Ealing and London Colonials, and North London Skolars who were based on the student old boys network.

However, before the season started Reading Raiders announced that they would remain in the London ARL, the tenth place being offered to fellow London ARL club Cambridge Eagles, a club that missed out at the first stage of applications. As a result of Cambridge Eagles being more geographically suited to the Eastern Division, Bedford Swifts were switched to the Central Division.

Kingston were to resign from the league after only playing one game, but besides this and a forfeited semifinal this pilot season was generally successful, resulting in an increase of RFL funding to allow further expansion. North London Skolars were the winners of the first and only Southern Conference defeating Leicester Phoenix in the final.

1998

The newly renamed "Rugby League Conference" was founded in 1998 with 14 teams (initially planned to be 15, but the proposed Northampton club failed to materialise) with several new clubs resulting in a reorganisation of the divisional lineups to three divisions (West, East and South). Another new twist was the addition of the nicknames of Super League clubs by many clubs, with Worcester becoming the Saints, Birmingham the Bulls and West London the Sharks; some Super League clubs also gave support to the new clubs.

North London Skolars joined the National Conference League after the first season, while retaining a team in the Rugby League Conference.

Initial line-ups as follows (new clubs in italics):
*Western Division: Birmingham Bulls, Leicester Phoenix, Worcester Saints, "Cheltenham Warriors, Chester Wolves"
*Eastern Division: Ipswich Rhinos, Bedford Swifts, Cambridge Eagles, "South Norfolk Saints, Northampton" (failed to start season)
*Southern Division: North London Skolars, West London Sharks, Oxford Cavaliers, "St Albans Centurions, Crawley Jets"

In an all new team final Crawley Jets beat South Norfolk Saints.

1999

The 1999 season saw further expansion to 20 teams, resulting in another change in the divisional system. Initially only 15 clubs were to be funded by the RFL and Hemel Stags were admitted to the East division to fill the gap originally intended for Northampton the previous season after their Northern Ford Premiership application was rejected and the Alliance (reserve grade) was scrapped. However, a change of decision and the collapse of the saw this changed. Worcester Saints became Worcestershire Saints after moving to Redditch in the first relocation. For the first time all starting teams finished the season.

Team line-ups as follows (new clubs in italics):
*Northern Division: Chester Wolves, "Crewe Wolves, Manchester Knights, Derby City, Nottingham Outlaws"
*Western Division: Birmingham Bulls, Leicester Phoenix, Worcestershire Saints, Cheltenham Warriors, "Wolverhampton Wizards"
*Eastern Division: Ipswich Rhinos, Bedford Swifts, Cambridge Eagles, South Norfolk Saints, "Hemel Stags"
*Southern Division: North London Skolars, West London Sharks, Oxford Cavaliers, St Albans Centurions, Crawley Jets

The title was won by Chester Wolves who defeated Crawley Jets in the final.

2000

This season saw a relatively modest further expansion to 24 teams, including the return of founder members Kingston. This also coincided with the demise of the London ARL as a winter BARLA league but saw it reform as a summer based merit league with a combination of reserve teams and new clubs. In a second relocation Cheltenham Warriors moved to Gloucester and became Gloucestershire Warriors. Another rebranding was had by Birmingham Bulls, who became Birmingham Bulldogs to avoid a legal challenge by the Birmingham Bulls american football team. This season also saw a test of summer rugby league in the North East, with a Northern Rugby League Summer Conference with teams from various BARLA leagues won by Teesside Steelers, also featuring Gateshead Panthers, Bridlington Bulls, West Craven Warriors and Wetherby Bulldogs.

Team line-ups as follows (new clubs in italics):
*Northern Division: Chester Wolves, Crewe Wolves, Manchester Knights, Derby City, Nottingham Outlaws, "Rotherham Giants"
*Western Division: Birmingham Bulldogs, Leicester Phoenix, Worcestershire Saints, Gloucestershire Warriors, Wolverhampton Wizards, "Coventry Bears"
*Eastern Division: Ipswich Rhinos, Bedford Swifts, Cambridge Eagles, South Norfolk Saints, Hemel Stags, St Albans Centurions
*Southern Division: North London Skolars, West London Sharks, Oxford Cavaliers, Crawley Jets, "South London Storm, Kingston Warriors"

The league was won by Crawley Jets who defeated Rotherham Giants in the final.

2001

The Conference expanded into Wales for the first time in 2001 when Cardiff Demons, who had formerly ran a young team in the Academy competition, joined the league. Along with the new North East Division this left the Rugby League Conference with 30 teams in the 2001 season.

Initial line-ups as follows (new clubs in italics):
*North East Division: "Newcastle Knights, Gateshead Panthers, Sunderland City, Teesside Steelers, Bridlington Bulls"
*Northern Division: Chester Wolves, Crewe Wolves, Manchester Knights, Derby City, Rotherham Giants
*Midlands Division: Birmingham Bulldogs, Leicester Phoenix, Wolverhampton Wizards, Coventry Bears, Nottingham Outlaws
*South Central Division: Worcestershire Saints, Gloucestershire Warriors, Hemel Stags, Oxford Cavaliers, "Cardiff Demons"
*Eastern Division: Ipswich Rhinos, Bedford Swifts, Cambridge Eagles, South Norfolk Saints, St Albans Centurions
*London & South Division: North London Skolars, West London Sharks, Crawley Jets, South London Storm, Kingston Warriors

However, Gateshead Panthers merged into Newcastle Knights before the season started leaving a gap in the North East Division which was filled by Durham Phoenix, who after this one season returned to their former name of Durham Tigers.

Teesside beat Coventry Bears by a narrow margin in the grand final at Webb Ellis Road, Rugby.

2002

The competition for the first time remained at the same number of teams in the 2002 season, the only change being the addition of Luton Vipers from the London ARL to replace South Norfolk Saints who took a year out into that same competition. Plans to expand to Scotland with a Glasgow team in 2002 on the Cardiff model failed to materialise, and the Conference had to wait until 2007 to have Scottish full members for the first time. Another plan to expand to 32 teams with the addition of teams based in Bolton and Telford also fell through with Telford withdrawing their application.

This season saw a controversial format change, with two sets of three second round groups, both for the top three teams in each group but also for the bottom teams. These provided four extra fixtures, giving 14 guaranteed games, but the extra fixtures were poorly scheduled, seeing Manchester Knights eliminated despite winning all four extra games. This format was ditched after this season, though the idea of tiered competition was to return with the advent of premier divisions.

Team line-ups as follows (new club in italics):
*North East Division: Newcastle Knights, Sunderland City, Teesside Steelers, Bridlington Bulls, Durham Tigers
*Northern Division: Chester Wolves, Crewe Wolves, Manchester Knights, Derby City, Rotherham Giants
*Midlands Division: Birmingham Bulldogs, Leicester Phoenix, Wolverhampton Wizards, Coventry Bears, Nottingham Outlaws
*South Central Division: Worcestershire Saints, Gloucestershire Warriors, Hemel Stags, Oxford Cavaliers, Cardiff Demons
*Eastern Division: Ipswich Rhinos, Bedford Swifts, Cambridge Eagles, St Albans Centurions, "Luton Vipers"
*London & South Division: North London Skolars, West London Sharks, Crawley Jets, South London Storm, Kingston Warriors

In 2002 London Skolars were accepted into National League Two, from the following season the first club in eighty years to make the transition from the amateur ranks to the professional leagues (the previous club to do so being Featherstone Rovers). In September, last year's losing finalist Coventry Bears beat Hemel Stags in the grand final held at Cheltenham.

2003

Hemel Stags, St Albans Centurions, Coventry Bears, Manchester Knights, South London Storm (their position initially given to Crawley Jets, who later turned it down) and Teesside Steelers joined the newly formed National League three in 2003, where they were joined by BARLA clubs Warrington Woolston Rovers, Bradford Dudley Hill, Sheffield Hillsborough Hawks and Huddersfield Underbank Rangers. The inaugural winners were Warrington Woolston Rovers who defeated surprise finalists Teesside Steelers in the final.

The conference made the leap from 30 to 52 teams with the main growth areas being Wales and the North West, both of which gained their own division for the first time, but also in the South East with the addition of no fewer than 5 teams from the London ARL (North London Skolars 'A', South London Storm 'A', Greenwich Admirals, St Ives Roosters and the returning South Norfolk Saints). Also for the first time two teams further southwest than Gloucester participated: the Bristol Sonics and Somerset Vikings.

This rapid expansion was in part possible due to the lowering of the strict minimum criteria which were considered less necessary due to National League Three allowing a higher standard of play for the teams more suited to it. However, despite this, the only team to fail to complete the season was founder member Bedford Swifts. More controversial at the time was the inclusion in a development competition of Leeds Akademiks, a team based on the student old boys model very successfully used by the North London Skolars, in the largely rugby league free northern part of Leeds, but still nonetheless in a city known for rugby league. This was to pave the way for a huge influx of truly heartland teams the following season, drastically changing the face of the competition.

Team line-ups as follows (new clubs in italics):
*North East Division: Newcastle Knights, Sunderland City, Bridlington Bulls, Durham Tigers, "Leeds Akademiks, Gateshead Storm, Whitley Bay Barbarians, Yorkshire Coast Tigers"
*North West Division: Chester Wolves, "Liverpool Buccaneers, Bolton Le Moors, Blackpool Sea Eagles, Lancaster, Carlisle Centurions"
*North Midlands Division: Crewe Wolves, Derby City, Nottingham Outlaws, Rotherham Giants, "Mansfield Storm, Worksop Sharks"
*Midlands Division: Birmingham Bulldogs, Leicester Phoenix, Wolverhampton Wizards, Bedford Swifts (failed to complete season), "Coventry Bears 'A', Telford Raiders"
*South West Division: Worcestershire Saints, Gloucestershire Warriors, Oxford Cavaliers, Cardiff Demons, "Bristol Sonics, Somerset Vikings"
*Welsh Division: "Swansea Bulls, Aberavon Fighting Irish, Bridgend Blue Bulls, Cynon Valley Cougars, Rumney Rhinos, Torfaen Tigers"
*Eastern Division: Ipswich Rhinos, Cambridge Eagles, Luton Vipers, "South Norfolk Saints, St Ives Roosters, Essex Eels"
*London & South Division: West London Sharks, Crawley Jets, Kingston Warriors, "North London Skolars ('A'), South London Storm 'A', Greenwich Admirals, Hemel Stags 'A', Gosport & Fareham Vikings"

Bridgend Blue Bulls won the 2003 title defeating Carlisle Centurions in the final.

2004

The 2004 season saw Birmingham Bulldogs, Carlisle Centurions, Gateshead Storm (late replacements after Teesside Steelers surprisingly announced they were folding after being runners-up the previous season) and Essex Eels leave the Conference to join National League three, which also gained the reformed Bramley Buffaloes. National league three was sensationally won by Coventry Bears, whose team featured professional rugby union players from Coventry RFC and Australian semi-pros including NRL reserve graders. They easily defeated Warrington Woolston Rovers 48-24 at Widnes's Halton Stadium, the first time the NL3 final had been held on the same bill as the other National League finals.

This season saw major expansion in the heartlands resulting in new Yorkshire and Cumbria divisions. The decision to include them has been much criticised, especially since many (though by no means all) are uncommitted to summer rugby league, seeing BARLA as their priority. However, only through the inclusion of heartland teams was it possible to create some of the premier divisions the following season, and a few of the heartland clubs were needed by National League Three over the years to keep it going when teams resigned from it. Furthermore allowing heartland teams in meant all National League Three teams could run a reserve team in the summer if they so chose

Unlike the previous season only one team (St Albans Centurions 'A') was admitted from the London ARL.

Initial line-ups as follows (new clubs in italics):
*North East Division: Newcastle Knights, Sunderland City, Durham Tigers, Whitley Bay Barbarians, Yorkshire Coast Tigers, "Peterlee Pumas, Jarrow Vikings"
*Yorkshire Division: Bridlington Bulls, Leeds Akademiks, "Huddersfield Underbank Rangers 'A', Bradford Dudley Hill 'A', Wetherby Bulldogs, South Wakefield Sharks, Thorne Moor Marauders, Hull Phoenix"
*Cumbrian Division: "Carlisle Centurions 'A', Penrith Pumas, West Cumbria Crusaders, Copeland Athletic, Barrow Shipbuilders"
*North West Division: Chester Wolves, Crewe Wolves, Liverpool Buccaneers, Bolton Le Moors, Blackpool Sea Eagles, Lancaster, "Widnes Saints, North Wales Coasters"
*North Midlands Division: Derby City, Nottingham Outlaws, Rotherham Giants, Mansfield Storm, Worksop Sharks, "Sheffield Hillsborough Hawks 'A' "
*South Midlands Division: Leicester Phoenix, Wolverhampton Wizards, Coventry Bears 'A', "Birmingham Bulldogs 'A', Rugby Raiders, St Albans Centurions 'A' "
*Western Division: Worcestershire Saints, Gloucestershire Warriors, Oxford Cavaliers, Bristol Sonics, Somerset Vikings, Telford Raiders
*Welsh Division: Cardiff Demons, Swansea Valley Miners, Aberavon Fighting Irish, Bridgend Blue Bulls, Valley Cougars, Torfaen Tigers, "Newport Titans"
*Eastern Division: Ipswich Rhinos, Cambridge Eagles, Luton Vipers, South Norfolk Saints, St Ives Roosters, North London Skolars ('A'), Hemel Stags 'A', "Middlesex Lions"
*South Division: West London Sharks, Crawley Jets, Kingston Warriors, South London Storm 'A', Greenwich Admirals, Gosport & Fareham Vikings

The start of the season was slightly marred by the withdrawal of twice former champions Crawley Jets, whose proposed replacements Reigate Crusaders never materialised. The only team to withdraw midseason was Carlisle Centurions 'A', the last time this number was so few.

New team Widnes Saints defeated West London Sharks in the final.

2005

In 2005 National League Three changed from a period of expansion to one of consolidation, with both Manchester Knights (who had failed to complete their last few games the previous season) and South London Storm both deciding to enter the new Premier Divisions, though in fact Manchester Knights would only last two games before folding, with their position taken over by former BARLA club Dewsbury Celtic who saw summer as their future. In fact the National League Three season saw both Carlisle Centurions and Birmingham Bulldogs fail to complete the season (Birmingham took over their reserve teams' fixtures) showing that the expansionist bubble had seemingly burst with Bradford Dudley Hill defeating Bramley Buffaloes in an all heartland final and both Coventry Bears and Essex Eels resigning at the end of the season.

The RLC Premier divisions were set up in 2005 to include the stronger teams in those areas who were able to travel further to play away games. The North and Central divisions were largely dominated by heartland teams that had been part of the influx the previous two seasons, the former of which incorporated all remaining Cumbrian division teams, while the Welsh premier division was the same teams as the regional division en masse promoted in status for pragmatic reasons. New teams Redditch Ravens and Scarborough Pirates were formed from the ashes of the Worcestershire Saints and Yorkshire Coast Tigers clubs respectively. Leeds Akademiks had to change their nickname to the Akkies due to a legal challenge from an American clothing brand named Akademik. The ever fruitful London ARL provided three more teams this year: Bedford Tigers (formed the previous year from the ashes of Bedford Swifts), Haringey Hornets (effectively London Skolars' third team) and Luton Vipers 'A'.

Initial line-ups as follows (new clubs in italics):
*North Premier Division: Sunderland City, Peterlee Pumas, Jarrow Vikings, West Cumbria Crusaders, Copeland Athletic, Penrith Pumas
*Central Premier Division: Manchester Knights, Bolton Le Moors, Leeds Akkies, Hull Phoenix, Telford Raiders, Nottingham Outlaws
*South Premier Division: South London Storm, West London Sharks, Greenwich Admirals, Ipswich Rhinos, Luton Vipers, London Skolars 'A'
*Welsh Premier Division: Cardiff Demons, Swansea Valley Miners, Aberavon Fighting Irish, Bridgend Blue Bulls, Valley Cougars, Torfaen Tigers, Newport Titans

*North East Division: Newcastle Knights, Durham Tigers, Whitley Bay Barbarians, "Scarborough Pirates, Winlaton Vulcans, Catterick Panthers"
*Yorkshire Division: Bridlington Bulls, Huddersfield Underbank Rangers 'A', Bradford Dudley Hill 'A', Wetherby Bulldogs, South Wakefield Sharks, "Hull Phoenix 'A', Leeds Akkies 'A', Bramley Buffaloes 'A" '
*North West Division: Chester Wolves, Crewe Wolves, Liverpool Buccaneers, Blackpool Sea Eagles, Lancaster, Widnes Saints, North Wales Coasters, "Warrington Wizards 'A', Ormskirk Heelers, Runcorn Vikings"
*North Midlands Division: Derby City, Rotherham Giants, Mansfield Storm, Worksop Sharks, Sheffield Hillsborough Hawks 'A', Thorne Moor Marauders, "Lincoln City Knights"
*West Midlands Division: Leicester Phoenix, Wolverhampton Wizards, Coventry Bears 'A', Birmingham Bulldogs ('A'), Rugby Raiders, "Redditch Ravens"
*South West Division: Gloucestershire Warriors, Oxford Cavaliers, Bristol Sonics, Somerset Vikings, "Plymouth, Thames Valley"
*Eastern Division: Cambridge Eagles, South Norfolk Saints, St Ives Roosters, St Albans Centurions 'A', "Bedford Tigers, Luton Vipers 'A" '
*London & South Division: Kingston Warriors, South London Storm 'A', Gosport & Fareham Vikings, Hemel Stags 'A', Middlesex Lions, "Haringey Hornets"

It was felt that this season saw too many unstable teams admitted to make up the gaps left by teams joining the Premier Division. This was supported by the unprecedented number of midseason withdrawals, though a couple of these were more due to the increasing standards created by the influx of heartland teams. Aside from the aforementioned NL3 withdrawals and Manchester's replacement by Dewsbury Celtic in the Premier Division there were many Regional Division withdrawals. This started with the pre-season withdrawal of Lancaster (replaced by Rochdale Spotland Rangers), Chester Wolves (replaced by Wigan & Leigh Cavaliers), Rugby Raiders and Thames Valley. This continued with midseason withdrawals of Oxford Cavaliers (who were to return), Luton Vipers 'A', Middlesex Lions, Gosport & Fareham Vikings and most surprisingly Rotherham Giants.

The Premier divisions saw Bridgend Blue Bulls defeat Leeds Akkies in the final, while Wetherby Bulldogs defeated Gloucestershire Warriors in the regional final.

2006

The 2006 season saw Coventry Bears and Essex Eels return to the RLC structure in the Midlands and South Premier divisions respectively. Their NL3 places were taken by the promoted Dewbury Celtic and Featherstone Lions, who had recently resigned from the BARLA National Conference League. Though Sheffield Hillsborough Hawks soon resigned from NL3 leaving their reserves as their first team.

The Premier divisions saw a change in boundaries leaving the North Premier division covering a larger area to give the midlands clubs their own premier division without having to face heartland teams, though this left the West Midlands division with too few teams to run, forcing it into an unpopular merger with the South West division. The Welsh premier division was somewhat overambitiously split into two divisions, though this decision was reversed for the following season. The London ARL provided three more clubs in Broadstairs Bulldogs, Kent Ravens and Colchester Romans. Two further relocations were Bolton Le Moors moving to Darwen to become East Lancashire Lions and Hull Phoenix moving to Cottingham. Furthermore London Skolars 'A' had a one season rebrand as Haringey Nornets, leaving the regional team of that name to become their reserves. The new Chester Wolves team were unconnected to the former team and in fact a summer team for Widnes based BARLA club West Bank Bears.

Initial line-ups as follows (new clubs in italics):
*North Premier Division: West Cumbria Crusaders, East Lancashire Lions, Leeds Akkies, Cottingham Phoenix, Blackpool Sea Eagles, Widnes Saints, "Huddersfield Sharks"
*Midlands Premier Division: Coventry Bears, Telford Raiders, Nottingham Outlaws, Derby City, Birmingham Bulldogs, Leicester Phoenix, Wolverhampton Wizards
*South Premier Divsion: Essex Eels, South London Storm, West London Sharks, Ipswich Rhinos, Luton Vipers, Haringey Hornets, Kingston Warriors
*Welsh Premier Division (East): Cardiff Demons, Valley Cougars, Torfaen Tigers, Newport Titans, "Blackwood Bulldogs"
*Welsh Premier Division (West): Swansea Valley Miners, Aberavon Fighting Irish, Bridgend Blue Bulls, "West Wales Sharks, Pembrokeshire Panthers"

*North Division: Sunderland Nissan, Peterlee Pumas, Jarrow Vikings, Copeland Athletic, Carlisle
*North East Division: Newcastle Knights, Durham Tigers, Whitley Bay Barbarians, Winlaton Vulcans, Catterick Panthers
*Yorkshire Division: Bridlington Bulls, Huddersfield Underbank Rangers 'A', Leeds Akkies 'A', Bramley Buffaloes 'A', Scarborough Pirates, "Ossett Trinity"
*Cheshire Division: Crewe Wolves, Liverpool Buccaneers, North Wales Coasters, Warrington Wizards 'A', Ormskirk Heelers, Runcorn Vikings, "Chester Wolves, Winnington Park"
*North Midlands & South Yorkshire Division: Mansfield Storm, Worksop Sharks, Sheffield Hillsborough Hawks ('A'), Thorne Moor Marauders, Lincoln City Knights
*West Midlands and South West Division: Coventry Bears 'A', Redditch Ravens, Gloucestershire Warriors, Oxford Cavaliers, Bristol Sonics, Somerset Vikings, Plymouth, "Burntwood Barbarians"
*Eastern Division: Cambridge Eagles, South Norfolk Saints, St Ives Roosters, Bedford Tigers, "Colchester Romans, Northampton"
*South East Division: Greenwich Admirals, Hemel Stags 'A', St Albans Centurions 'A', Haringey Hornets 'A', "Kent Ravens, Broadstairs Bulldogs"

As with the previous season there were many dropouts with Winlaton Vulcans (replaced by Gateshead Storm 'A'), Pembrokeshire Panthers and Northampton failing to make the starting gate and West Cumbria Crusaders, Huddersfield Sharks, West Cumbria Crusaders, Luton Vipers, Essex Eels, Catterick Panthers and Mansfield Storm subsequently resigned. Furthermore Haringey Hornets 'A' were rather dubiously allowed to remain in the competition despite scratching 7 out of their 10 fixtures. However, unlike the previous season the withdrawals were less to do with unsuitable teams being let into the regionals and more to do with regional division standard teams being forced into the premier divisions to make up the numbers there.

The 2006 Premier division saw South London defeat East Lancashire in the final, while Liverpool beat Thorne Moor in the regionals final.

In 2006 a new league was founded as a feeder league to the RLC in the Midlands and South Yorkshire. The Midlands RL Merit League (now known as RL Merit League) was based on the principles of the successful London League and consists of new clubs who are not ready for the full commitment of the Conference season together with RLC clubs' 'A' teams.From 2006 the Rugby League Conference provided administrative and promotional support to the Scottish domestic league as a pilot scheme which has provided a Scottish division of six teams as a full part of the Conference for the 2007 season. The six named teams being Glasgow Bulls, Easterhouse Panthers, Paisley Hurricanes, Edinburgh Eagles, Fife Lions and Moray Eels.
Gloucestershire Warriors became the first Conference side to beat a 'traditional' amateur side when they beat Pennine League team Illingworth 25-24 away from home in the 2006 Challenge Cup. South London Storm were crowned RLC National Champions after beating East Lancashire Lions 30-0 in the final at Broadstreet RUFC.

2007

he 2007 season also saw a new sponsor for the league with Totalrlc being replaced by United Co-operatives in a six figure deal. [http://www.rugbyleagueconference.co.uk/news/story.php?news_id=175] Following United's merger with the larger Co-operative Group, the league was named the Co-operative Rugby League Conference for sponsorship purposes.

In 2007, Bradford Dudley Hill withdrew from National League three to return to the National Conference League and St Albans Centurions decided to join the RLC Premier South. Hemel Stags were left as the only southern team and National League three was absorbed into the Rugby League Conference as the Rugby League Conference National Division with the addition of three teams from the Premier North Division: Leeds Akkies, Cottingham Phoenix and East Lancashire Lions. Cottingham Phoenix were subsequently expelled about half way through the season for forfeiting three fixtures and are now defunct. The inaugural RLC National division was won by Featherstone Lions who defeated Bramley Buffaloes in the final.

The promotion of three teams to the RLC National left the already depleted Premier North unviable and an artifical north premier was created out of two of the regional divisions so that a league of this name could still exist. The Midlands Premier Division gained Gloucestershire and Somerset in place of struggling Wolverhampton, who returned to the Regionals. This season was a new South West division created for teams from the deep South West. While this was rather artificially created it was necessary due to the unique circumstances of the region to reduce travelling costs for what are ultimately amateur clubs. There was also already local interest for more teams, but intervention was needed to make sure this was a full division.

For the first time in several years no London ARL teams were promoted, but Farnborough Falcons and London Griffins had intended to enter before receiving callups and still played a small number of fixtures in it. The Midlands Merit League directly produced new club South Humber Rabbitohs and also helped provide Scunthorpe Barbarians partly based on former MML club Scunthorpe Braves. Aberavon Fighting Irish rebranded as Neath Port Talbot Steelers and South Norfolk Saints as Thetford Titans. Worksop Sharks relocated to Rossington, Doncaster controversially due to the one club, one town policy theoretically in place and Thorne Moor Marauders merged with BARLA club Moorends to become the Moorends & Thorne Marauders.

The Scottish affiliated division of 2006 became a full member division with all 6 teams admitted though Glasgow never completed the season.

Initial line-ups as follows (new clubs in italics):
*National Division: Hemel Stags, Warrington Wizards, Huddersfield Underbank Rangers, Bramley Buffaloes, Gateshead Storm, Dewsbury Celtic, Featherstone Lions, Leeds Akkies, Cottingham Phoenix, East Lancashire Lions
*North Premier Division: Sunderland Nissan, Peterlee Pumas, Jarrow Vikings, Copeland Athletic, Carlisle, Newcastle Knights, Durham Tigers, Whitley Bay Barbarians, Gateshead Storm 'A', "Billingham Lions"
*Midlands Premier Division: Coventry Bears, Telford Raiders, Nottingham Outlaws, Derby City, Birmingham Bulldogs, Leicester Phoenix, Gloucestershire Warriors, Somerset Vikings
*South Premier Divsion: St Albans Centurions, South London Storm, West London Sharks, Ipswich Rhinos, London Skolars 'A', Kingston Warriors, Kent Ravens
*Welsh Premier Division: Cardiff Demons, Valley Cougars, Torfaen Tigers, Newport Titans, Blackwood Bulldogs, Neath Port Talbot Steelers, Bridgend Blue Bulls, West Wales Sharks
*Yorkshire & Lincolnshire Division: Bridlington Bulls, Leeds Akkies 'A', Scarborough Pirates, Rossington Sharks, Moorends & Thorne Marauders, Lincoln City Knights, "South Humber Rabbitohs, Scunthorpe Barbarians"
*North West Division: Blackpool Sea Eagles, Widnes Saints, Liverpool Buccaneers, Warrington Wizards 'A', Ormskirk Heelers
*Cheshire Division: Crewe Wolves, North Wales Coasters, Runcorn, Winnington Park, "Macclesfield Titans"
*West Midlands Division: Coventry Bears 'A', Redditch Ravens, Oxford Cavaliers, Bristol Sonics, Burntwood Barbarians, Wolverhampton Wizards
*South West Division: Plymouth Titans, "Somerset Vikings 'A', Devon Sharks, East Devon Eagles, Exeter Centurions"
*Eastern Division: Cambridge Eagles, Thetford Titans, St Ives Roosters, Bedford Tigers, Colchester Romans, Greenwich Admirals
*South Division: Broadstairs Bulldogs, "Farnborough Falcons, Gosport & Fareham Vikings, Finchley"
*Scottish Division: "Glasgow Bulls, Easterhouse Panthers, Paisley Hurricanes, Edinburgh Eagles, Fife Lions, Moray Eels"

Broadstairs Bulldogs failed to start the season and were replaced by London Griffins. Cottingham Phoenix, Gateshead Storm 'A', Ormskirk Heelers, North Wales Coasters and Glasgow Bulls all failed to complete the season, which while less than in the previous two seasons was still far from ideal, especially in the North West and Cheshire divisions which were both left with just four teams.

The Premier division was won by St Albans Centurions who defeated Coventry Bears in the final. The Regional division was won by Widnes Saints who defeated Bedford Tigers in the final.

2008

The RLC National in 2008 saw Leeds Akkies drop to the Premier North but the addition of a Colts team to professional club Celtic Crusaders and the double promotion of Liverpool Buccaneers. Also notably for the first time no RLC National clubs ran a reserve team in the RLC, in fact Hemel were the only club to run one at all, in the London ARL.

There were multiple rebrandings: Crewe Wolves became Lymm Wolves, Winnington Park became Northwich Stags, the returning North Wales Coasters became Rhyl Coasters, Kingston Warriors became Elmbridge and Gosport & Fareham Vikings became Portsmouth Navy Seahawks.

The Midlands Merit League (renamed RL merit league for this season) provided East Riding and Sheffield Forgers but regained South Humber Rabbitohs who stepped down. The London ARL provided Northampton Casuals and Hainault Bulldogs but regained London Griffins and Farnborough Falcons with the scrapping of the unviable South Division.

Initial line-ups as follows (new clubs in italics):
*National Division: Hemel Stags, Warrington Wizards, Huddersfield Underbank Rangers, Bramley Buffaloes, Gateshead Storm, Dewsbury Celtic, Featherstone Lions, East Lancashire Lions, Liverpool Buccaneers, "Celtic Crusaders Colts"
*North Premier Division: Sunderland Nissan, Peterlee Pumas, Jarrow Vikings, Copeland Athletic, Carlisle, Newcastle Knights, Durham Tigers, Whitley Bay Barbarians, Leeds Akkies
*Midlands Premier Division: Coventry Bears, Nottingham Outlaws, Derby City, Birmingham Bulldogs, Leicester Phoenix, Gloucestershire Warriors, Bedford Tigers
*South Premier Divsion: St Albans Centurions, South London Storm, West London Sharks, Ipswich Rhinos, London Skolars 'A', Elmbridge, Kent Ravens, Portsmouth Navy Seahawks
*Welsh Premier Division: Cardiff Demons, Valley Cougars, Torfaen Tigers, Newport Titans, Blackwood Bulldogs, Neath Port Talbot Steelers, Bridgend Blue Bulls, West Wales Sharks
*Yorkshire Division: Bridlington Bulls, Leeds Akkies 'A', Scarborough Pirates, "East Riding, York Lokomotive, Northallerton Stallions"
*South Yorkshire & Lincolnshire Division: Rossington Sharks, Moorends & Thorne Marauders, Lincoln City Knights, Scunthorpe Barbarians, "Rotherham Giants, Sheffield Forgers"
*North West Division: Blackpool Sea Eagles, Widnes Saints, "New Broughton Rangers, Barrow Vikings, Manchester Jets"
*Cheshire Division: Lymm Wolves, Rhyl Coasters, Runcorn, Northwich Stags, Macclesfield Titans
*West Midlands Division: Telford Raiders, Coventry Bears 'A', Redditch Ravens, Oxford Cavaliers, Bristol Sonics, Wolverhampton Wizards, "Swindon St George"
*South West Division: Plymouth Titans, Somerset Vikings, Devon Sharks, East Devon Eagles, Exeter Centurions
*Eastern Division: Cambridge Eagles, Thetford Titans, St Ives Roosters, Colchester Romans, Greenwich Admirals, "Northampton Casuals, Hainault Bulldogs"
*Scottish Division: Glasgow Bulls, Easterhouse Panthers, Paisley Hurricanes, Edinburgh Eagles, Fife Lions, Moray Eels, "Carluke Tigers, Jordanhill Phoenix"

Glasgow Bulls, Manchester Jets and Macclesfield Titans all failed to start the season, with Kent Ravens having their fixtures stopped after one game, they now play in the London ARL.

ee also

* Rugby League Conference

References

"Beyond the Heartlands - The History of the Rugby League Conference" Julian Harrison

External links

* [http://www.rugbyleagueconference.co.uk Official website]
* [http://rugbyleagueconference.rugbyleague.org/ Unofficial RLC website]
* [http://www.rugbyleagueconference.co.uk/directory/index.php Club directory on official site]
* [http://www.rugbyleagueconference.co.uk/fixtures/table.php Official tables]
* [http://www.rugbyleagueconference.co.uk/fixtures/thisweek.php Fixture lists]
* [http://leaguenews.co.uk/content/category/22/53/369/ Fixtures and results on leaguenews.co.uk]


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