PROFESSIONAL sport is targeting a return to action in early July behind closed doors, according to the chairman of rugby league’s National Conference League.

Trevor Hunt made the point, which can be referenced to Saints in Super League, while announcing the NCL 2020 season is suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A series of regional fixtures are to be scheduled for the likes of Thatto Heath Crusaders, Pilkington Recs and Clock Face Miners instead when Government regulations allow.

Thatto Heath and Pilks had each played two opening games to the new season in the Premier Division and Miners two in Division Two when the action was forced to a halt due to Covid-19 and the subsequent UK lockdown.

“These are tough and unprecedented times, and the NCL management committee is determined to try and do whatever it can to ensure that when we do get a season underway, that we minimise the outgoings for the clubs at the same time as trying to maximise the incoming revenues wherever we can,” he said.

“The safety and well being of the players plus the sustainability of our member clubs are the main priorities now, and we are working towards undertaking options that will hopefully deliver on those fronts.

“To this end we held a management meeting on April 14 (via Microsoft Team) at which we determined certain approach criteria for when we were given the go ahead to commence some form of fixtures.

“We then waited for further information from the Rugby Football League following their talks with the Government, which was relayed via the community board on April 20 before awaiting the Government announcement on Friday.

“The reason for these delays were in the hope that there may be an indication that lockdown on sporting events may be lifted, and therefore a possible restart of the NCL would be a potential option on or around June 6.

“I am reliably informed that will not be the case. Early July is being eyed by professional sport as a potential start date, but only behind closed doors, and of course the permission to stage events that will attract more than 500 people will be further down the list. Those would possibly include NCL games.

“In essence it is unlikely that an NCL season could recommence until late July or early August, and that needs the pandemic to be conquered first.

“Therefore having taken all the above on board, it is with some sadness that the NCL management has unanimously decided to suspend the 2020 season for one that will be replaced by a series of regionalised group fixtures.”

Hunt went on to explain how this could work.

“There will be no promotion or relegation, but by the creation of a number of derby games, it is hoped that the clubs will be able to maximise revenue from good-sized attendances at the same time as saving on the amount of travel that will be required,” he said.

“There has been much speculation on how the regional groupings will be determined and how many fixtures they will provide.

“That will very much depend on a fixture start date being provided by the RFL in agreement with the Government.

“Suffice to say we have a number of options that give a varying number of fixtures and which are flexible in the way they can be organised to give more or less games as the pandemic events unfold.

“What we will do is provide a meaningful competition that will give the players, coaches and fans something to aspire to, along with an ultimate Championship Final.

“However, the details will be revealed once we have a commencement date to work towards.

“We will of course enable the players two to three weeks to get back into a fitness regime with their clubs ahead of commencing fixtures.”