CHAMPIONSHIP rugby league returns to Leigh Sports Village on Sunday when Batley Bulldogs visit to face Centurions, kick off 3pm.

Last season Batley ended the Centurions’ hopes of play-off glory before tasting Grand Final defeat to Sheffield Eagles.

Batley have proven to be a hard-working unit in pre-season, with a 20-0 loss to St Helens and a 30-0 victory over Keighley Cougars, while Centurions’ ‘important fixture’ against Halifax at The Shay was washed out.

Despite those dented plans, Leigh head coach Paul Rowley insists his side will not be underdone.

“It was a blow losing that game but we will be ready for the arrival of Batley,” he said.

“We’ll have to be! After that it is headlong into the season with few let-ups.

“We have worked hard and continue to work very hard in training.

“John Kear has certainly assembled a competitive Batley squad and they, like us, will be looking to lay down a marker in the first game.”

Looking ahead to a season which will see the top two sides claim a greatly increased bounty and no less than five teams relegated, Rowley added: “There are pressures at both ends of the table but as we stand on the edge of Rugby League’s brave new world there are opportunities as well. It makes every game important and there is certainly a buzz for it all starting.

“I can’t help but feel that our game with Batley is certainly the pick of the opening round of the competition and if it (Championship matches) were still being shown on television, it would probably have been picked to be televised.”

RFL chief operating officer Ralph Rimmer has hinted that alternate broadcast partners are being sought and admitted that losing Premier Sports, so close to the start of the season, ‘came as a shock’.

Kingstone Press are tied in as the competition’s title sponsors again and have increased their support for rugby league.

Rowley said: “We are fortunate to have a sponsor on board like Kingstone Press who have actively promoted our sport and their product.

“They are enthusiastic and have shown real zest to get involved.”

With nine positions to play for in next year’s 12-team competition, the Kingstone Press Championship culminates in an eight-team play-off series and a Grand Final at an as yet unannounced ground on the weekend of October 4/5.