WITH the last two weekends in March accommodating the first two rounds of the Betfred Challenge Cup, the 2021 Betfred Championship campaign starts on Good Friday, April 2 and Oldham kick off with a cracker against derby rivals Swinton Lions at Bower Fold.

Depending on first-round Challenge Cup results, there is a possibility that the Lions could entertain Roughyeds at Heywood Road in the cup the previous weekend, but even without that potential tit-bit they don’t come much better for Oldham than a home game against derby rivals on the opening day of a new league season.

Former Oldham favourites Richard Lepori and Will Hope will be looking forward to returning to Bower Fold in the colours of Swinton who, like Matt Diskin’s men, have recruited heavily for this year.

Among their captures are a utility back from New Zealand, Geronimo Doyle, who has represented the Maoris, and one of the biggest names outside Super League in vastly-experienced former Leigh Centurions masterclass half-back Martyn Ridyard.

With one eye on Covid, Championship clubs have agreed a 22-game fixture formula with the RFL, which means each team will play nine of the other 13 teams home and away (18 matches) and the other four teams once.

The teams Oldham play only once are Halifax Panthers and Bradford Bulls (both at Bower Fold) and Batley Bulldogs and York City Knights (both away).

Apart from the Good Friday opener and the trip to the South of France to face Toulouse Olympique on Saturday evening, July 3, all games are scheduled for Sundays with 3pm starts, although the RFL is keen to point out that, even more than usual this year, and for obvious reasons, dates and kick-off times are subject to change.

The actual venue for the game at London Broncos on April 25 has still to be confirmed and the away game with Sheffield Eagles in August will be at the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster, where Eagles are playing all their home games this year.

There are blank Sundays on April 11, June 6 and July 18, but that’s because those weekends are allocated to the Challenge Cup with the final at Wembley on Saturday, July 17 in a double-header which will also feature the final of the 1895 Cup.

The winners of the four second-round Betfred Challenge Cup ties on the weekend of March 27 and 28 will join the 12 Super League clubs in round three on April 11 and also qualify for the semi-finals of the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup, to be held in June.

APRIL

2 Swinton Lions (Good Friday) H

18 Batley Bulldogs A

25 London Broncos A

MAY

2 Halifax Panthers H

9 Whitehaven H

16 Featherstone A

23 York City Knights A

30 Widnes Vikings H

JUNE

13 Sheffield Eagles H

20 Newcastle Thunder A

27 Dewsbury Rams H

JULY

3 Toulouse Olympique (Sat, 6pm) A

11 Bradford Bulls H

25 Whitehaven A

AUGUST

1  London Broncos H

8 Swinton Lions A

15 Sheffield Eagles A

22 Toulouse Olympique H

29  Featherstone H

SEPTEMBER

5 Widnes Vikings A

12 Newcastle Thunder H

19 Dewsbury Rams A