Rugby League Conference
|Rugby League Conference|
|Sport||Rugby league football|
|Formerly known as||Southern Conference League|
|Replaced by||Regional Leagues|
|Number of teams||115|
|Champions||Huddersfield Underbank Rangers (2011)|
The Rugby League Conference (RLC) (also known as the Co-operative Rugby League Conference as a result of sponsorship from The Co-operative Group), was a series of regionally based divisions of amateur rugby league teams spread throughout England, Scotland and Wales.
The RLC was founded as the 10-team Southern Conference League in 1997, with teams from the southern midlands and the south east, but has subsequently, rebranded and expanded both geographically and numerically to include around 90 teams stretched across almost the whole of Great Britain from Aberdeen in northern Scotland down to Plymouth on the south coast of England.
The aim of the RLC was initially to provide regular fixtures for new clubs based outside the 'heartland' of rugby league, although as the playing standards increased, it also accepted teams from the 'heartlands'. The hope is that, at least some of these clubs, would eventually progress to become semi-professional clubs that could one day join the 'traditional' clubs in Championship 1; to date, London Skolars have done so with both Hemel Stags and Oxford Rugby League joining in 2013, Coventry Bears in 2014 and Nottingham Outlaws will join Championship 1 in the 2016 season.
With the top heartlands amateur league, the National Conference League voting to move to a summer season, the 2012 season saw a re-alignment of the amateur game and the Rugby League Conference was replaced with a series of regional leagues.
The Southern Conference League was founded as a 10-team competition in 1997. The following season it was rebranded as the Rugby League Conference due to its intentions to include teams from all non-heartland parts of the country and its even then inclusion of several teams outside the South.
The league steadily expanded over the first few seasons right up to the fringes of the heartlands, before expanding into Wales for the first time in 2001 with the addition of Cardiff Demons. The league expanded into the North East that same season.
In 2003 National League Three was founded including some of the stronger Rugby League Conference clubs and some BARLA clubs. This same season saw massive expansion of the Rugby League Conference including an entire Welsh division. The league also pushed its borders further including more teams from the less rugby league playing areas of the counties considered the heartlands and went as far south west as Somerset.
The league expanded further in 2004 by allowing entry to heartland clubs. For the 2005 season the competition was split into two tiers, with Premier divisions being created for above the existing regional divisions. The next major changes were in 2007 when National League Three (as the National Division) and the Scottish League became integral parts of the Rugby League Conference structure.
The Rugby League Conference celebrated passing the 100 club barrier in 2010.
2011 was the last season before the league was split up into multiple leagues.
A selection is made for England Lionhearts who represent England in the Skanska Amateur Four Nations competition against national amateur sides from Wales, Scotland (players drawn from RLC teams) and Ireland (players from Rugby League Ireland).
Former divisions within the RLC
There were many changes in format of the Rugby League Conference as it expanded over time, here are the divisions that existed when the league was lasted competed for in 2011.
- National Division
- The premier divisions: North East Premier, North West Premier, Scottish Premier, Southern Premier, Welsh Premier, Midlands Premier, Yorkshire Premier
- The regional divisions: East, London & South, North East, North West, South West, Welsh Championship, West of England
- The feeder leagues: Yorkshire & Humber Merit League, North West Merit League, Midlands Merit League, London and South East Merit League
- Conference League South, Yorkshire Men's League, North West Men's League, Midlands Rugby League, North East Rugby League, South West Rugby League, East Men's League, South Premier, London & South East Men's League, Scottish Conference League, South Wales Premiership
Women's Rugby League Conference
In 2011 the following teams will play in the Women's Rugby League Conference:
- Central Division: Bradford Thunderbirds, Brighouse Ladies, Dudley Hill Diamonds, Keighley Cats, West Craven Warriors
- North East Division: Featherstone Rovers, Hunslet Hawks, Peterlee Pumas, Leeds Akkies, Stanningley, Whinmoor
- North West Division: Chorley Panthers, Leigh East, Leigh Miners Rangers, Mancunians RL, Wigan Ladies
- South Division: Coventry Bears, Nottingham Outlaws, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, The Army, West London Sharks
- West Division: Crossfields, Halton, Macclesfield, Warrington, Widnes Moorfield
Rugby League Conference National
- 2003 Warrington Woolston Rovers (now Warrington Wizards) (as National League three)
- 2004 Coventry Bears (as National League three)
- 2005 Bradford Dudley Hill (as National League three)
- 2006 Bramley Buffaloes (as National League three)
- 2007 Featherstone Lions
- 2008 Crusaders Colts
- 2009 Bramley Buffaloes
- 2010 Warrington Wizards
- 2011 Huddersfield Underbank Rangers
Harry Jepson Trophy
Until 2004, the Harry Jepson trophy was competed for by all the Conference sides. Between 2005 and 2011, it was competed for by the RLC Premier divisions.
From 2012 onwards, it has been contested by the non-heartlands successor leagues.
- 1997 North London Skolars (as Southern Conference)
- 1998 Crawley Jets
- 1999 Chester Wolves
- 2000 Crawley Jets
- 2001 Teesside Steelers
- 2002 Coventry Bears
- 2003 Bridgend Blue Bulls
- 2004 Widnes Saints
- 2005 Bridgend Blue Bulls
- 2006 South London Storm
- 2007 St Albans Centurions
- 2008 Nottingham Outlaws
- 2009 West London Sharks
- 2010 St Albans Centurions
- 2011 Parkside Hawks
The RLC Regional is open to English sides that are in the regional divisions rather than the Premier divisions. It was introduced in 2005.
- 2005 Wetherby Bulldogs
- 2006 Liverpool Buccaneers
- 2007 Widnes Saints
- 2008 Moorends-Thorne Marauders
- 2009 Northampton Casuals (now Northampton Demons)
- 2010 Northampton Demons
- 2011 Elmbridge Eagles
- British rugby league system
- Co-operative Championship
- National Conference League
- London League
- RL Merit League
- Midlands Rugby League