COUGARS will be starting their season before most of their League 1 counterparts, after they committed to playing in the first round of the Challenge Cup on the weekend of March 21.

The 10 third-tier sides were told entry into this year's competition was optional, and the majority were initially keen to play.

But the RFL informed them a preliminary round would need to be played on the weekend of March 14 if that were the case.

In the end that idea was scrapped, meaning only three clubs could be chosen to enter at the first round stage.

Those were Keighley, Barrow Raiders and West Wales Raiders, who will join the 13 UK-based Championship clubs in the first round.

That will be followed by the second round on the last weekend of March, with the winners of those four ties earning a double reward.

One will be a place in the third round of the Challenge Cup, when the 12 Super League clubs join the competition, and the other will be a spot in the semi-finals of the 1895 Cup in June, meaning they will be 80 minutes away from a place at Wembley on July 17.

Details of the draw for the first two rounds of the Challenge Cup will be announced shortly.

Clubs have already agreed that games played behind closed doors will be streamed live on the RFL’s Our League platforms (app & website) on a pay per view basis.

This will allow supporters to watch fixtures even if they cannot attend in person – with home season ticket holders given free access to the live stream packages for their club’s league games.

There is a desire to minimise the number of fixtures played behind closed doors before the return of fans to grounds, meaning the start of League 1 has been put back until the weekend of May 8-9.

This will still allow each team to play the other nine twice in an 18-round season before a play-off series.

Details of promotion and relegation mechanisms between the divisions will be discussed and finalised at a meeting of clubs early next month – ahead of the publication of fixtures for Championship and League 1.