The 20th season of Wales Rugby League’s domestic South Wales Men’s League kicks off on Saturday 27 May as holders Rhondda Outlaws will attempt to defend their crown.
Six teams competed in the first season in 2003 – Aberavon Fighting Irish, Bridgend Blue Bulls, Cynon Valley Cougars, Rumney Rhinos, Swansea Bulls and Torfaen Tigers. Since then, over 500 games have taken place over 19 seasons (there was no competition in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic).
Bridgend won the first title, in a Grand Final that wasn’t marketed as such at the time. They beat Aberavon 42-8 in what was a national quarter final and they ended up going all the way to remain unbeaten in their first year, under the leadership of former internationals Kevin Ellis, John Devereux and Allan Bateman. They now have ten Welsh titles to their name.
Rhondda will open their defence away against newcomers to the men’s league, Cynon Valley Cavaliers. The Aberdare-based side have been a junior club for a number of years and will go into 2023 with a senior side for the first time.
Due to the strength and growth of rugby league in Wales, Torfaen Tigers have returned to the competition after a spell in an English tournament. They will face another new side in South Wales Jets, who will play out of Merthyr Tydfil. The Jets were founded as a rugby union charity side in 2020 and have since made over £6,000 for their partnered mental health charity “Signposted Cymru”. A not for profit outfit, they will continue to raise funds during the rugby league season to assist players who are struggling with mental health.
The eight sides will play ten rounds with two Conferences of four, split in location by the A470. Each side will play those in their own Conference twice, and those in their opposing region once. The top two sides in each Conference then meet in the semi-finals on August 5 with the Grand Final on August 20.
Whoever wins the Grand Final in South Wales, will play against the winners of the North Wales League for the first time ever. The winners of that game will have the honour in taking part in the 100th game of the Rugby League Challenge Cup to feature a Welsh side, as they enter the 2024 tournament in the first round.
Places will then be up for grabs in the East, West and North Wales sides. They will then be fighting for places in the representative side, Wales Dragonhearts, who have a long history of producing professional and international players. No fewer than 27 former Dragonhearts have gone on to win full Wales caps.
WRL general manager Mark Jones said: “It is with great pleasure and excitement that Wales Rugby League can announce the new South Wales League for 2023.
“Over the last few seasons, some of the Welsh sides have competed in English leagues, but this season all of our community clubs will return to the Welsh League.
“When I was first employed as a Community Development officer for WRL in 2009, we were based at the Brewery Field, the South Wales League was thriving and it was no coincidence that WRL at all pathways were successful. The sport then saw a decline and then we were hit by the pandemic. However, since our return to play, the participation figures have increased by 40% and we look forward to our most successful domestic season in both North and South Wales.
“Our aim at Wales Rugby League this year is to also build our volunteer infrastructure, as without club staff and match officials we will have no games played.”
A celebratory logo has been designed by Anne Meredith of Sterling Designs, now fully established as Wales Rugby League’s graphic designer. She has created uniform logos for all domestic leagues in Wales, all of which will be rolled out in the coming weeks.
Opening day fixtures – Saturday 27 May 2023
Aber Valley Wolves v Cardiff Blue Dragons
Aberavon Fighting Irish v Bridgend Blue Bulls
Cynon Valley Cavaliers v Rhondda Outlaws
South Wales Jets v Torfaen Tigers
Season fixture lists. Please feel free to share all or your favourite club’s to social media