Eagles handed Halifax opener

PA Sport
Sheffield Eagles will take on Halifax in their opening fixture
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Sheffield Eagles will take on Halifax in their opening fixture

Championship Grand Final winners Sheffield will kick off the defence of their title in the opening fixture of a new-look division on January 31, when they head to Halifax.

Mark Aston's Eagles travel to the home of the Northern Rail Cup champions for the first clash of the restructured competition, which now includes 14 teams.

Sheffield lifted the trophy thanks to a 20-16 win over Featherstone - who topped the regular-season table - at Warrington, and a trip to Karl Harrison's Halifax represents the hardest of starts.

Elsewhere, Featherstone host Leigh, John Kear's Batley face Keighley and Championship One winners Doncaster will play Dewsbury.

York head to Whitehaven, Hunslet meet Barrow and Swinton take on Workington in the other fixtures.

As part of the changes to the game below Super League level, Championship One is now an eight-team competition which features three new clubs.

It will get under way on March 29 when University of Gloucestershire All Golds play their first professional match against fellow debutants Oxford, with the third new club, Hemel, meeting the London Skolars.

The other games put Oldham and Rochdale up against each other, while there is an all-Welsh affair as the Scorpions of the south meet the Crusaders of the north.

Change has also affected the Northern Rail Cup, with the eight second-tier Championship teams fighting it out in two round-robin pots of four, with the winners of each progressing to join the other 14 in a knockout competition.

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