The 2023 Canterbury Rugby League club season is just about upon us – a week earlier than usual – and there’s plenty of changes and exciting initiatives for players, coaches, clubs and their supporters to wrap their heads around.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of Saturday’s opening round of matches.


Firstly, the CRL Men’s Premiership, the Massetti Cup, will feature six teams this season. When Celebration Lions announced their decision to withdraw from the premier grade for 2023, the initial plan was to play a ‘grading round’ over the early weeks of the season, with the bottom-placed team to move down to the ISC Canterbury Cup Premier Reserves for the remainder of the season. But earlier this month Papanui Tigers requested to start the season in the Canterbury Cup rather than the Massetti Cup.

Consequently, Linwood Keas, Hornby Panthers, Eastern Eagles, Halswell Hornets, Northern Bulldogs and Riccarton Knights will make up the six-team CRL Men’s Premiership. The clubs will face one another three times across 15 weeks, with Round 1 getting underway this Saturday, March 25th, and triple round-robin play concluding in Round 15, set down for July 22nd.


All six clubs fielding a premier grade team will also enter a side in the ISC Canterbury Cup Premier Reserves, joined by Papanui Tigers, Ashburton Barbarians, Shirley Hawks, Burnham Chevaliers and Greymouth Greyhounds in what will initially be an 11-team competition.

After every team plays each other once, the top six teams will remain in the ISC Canterbury Cup for the remainder of the season and the bottom five will recreate the third-tier Division One, which returns for the first time since 2019. All teams retain their points from the original round-robin and, following the split, will play each team in their respective grade again.


Canterbury’s women’s club competition will kick off on April 16th – the first weekend after Easter – featuring Linwood Keas, Sydenham Swans, Woolston Rams, Eastern Eagles and Burnham Chevaliers.

The Keas are out to defend their title after edging the Swans 22-20 in a thrilling 2022 CRL Women’s Premiership grand final.


Friday Night Football at Ngā Puna Wai
Four Massetti Cup matches are scheduled for a Friday night timeslot under lights at Ngā Puna Wai – marquee matches certain to create a wonderful atmosphere at the home of Canterbury Rugby League.
• May 5th – Eastern Eagles v Linwood Keas
• May 19th – Riccarton Knights v Hornby Panthers
• June 9th – Eastern Eagles v Halswell Hornets
• June 30th – Linwood Keas v Halswell Hornets

CRL Magic Round
For the first time, Ngā Puna Wai will host a ‘Magic Round’, with all three CRL Men’s Premiership matches on Saturday, June 24th – Eastern Eagles v Hornby Panthers, Riccarton Knights v Halswell Hornets and Northern Bulldogs v Linwood Keas – to be played simultaneously on the venue’s three rugby league fields.

The ISC Canterbury Cup and Division One competitions have a bye weekend, giving the entire Canterbury Rugby League community the opportunity to get down to Ngā Puna Wai and support what shapes as truly special occasion for our local game.

Grand Final Rematches
Jot down April 22nd in the calendar for a massive grand final rematch double-header at Linwood Park. Linwood Keas and Hornby Panthers faced one another in the 2022 Men’s Premiership and Canterbury Cup deciders – the Keas prevailing in both – and the fierce rivals will play their Round 4 matches in both grades at the same ground.

Papanui Tigers Centenary
The proud Papanui Tigers club turned 100 last year, but Centenary celebrations were postponed due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19 across New Zealand. The uncertainty around people being able to attend such a special event – which entails a monumental level of planning – prompted the difficult decision.

Papanui will mark the hallowed milestone this season instead, coinciding with Easter weekend. In the only match in any grade being played on Saturday, April 8th, the Tigers will host Halswell Hornets in their ISC Canterbury Cup encounter at Papanui Domain.

West Coast Fixtures
While yet to be confirmed, four of Greymouth Greyhounds’ matches have been pencilled in for the spiritual home of West Coast Rugby League, Wingham Park in Greymouth. Some clubs have expressed interest in heading across the Southern Alps to play the Greyhounds in their backyard and CRL will continue to work with our clubs to assist them in getting there.

Promotion-Relegation Round
In what promise to be among the most absorbing club matches of the season, two promotion-relegation fixtures are set to be played on August 5th (provided the teams from the lower grade accept the challenge).

The sixth-placed Massetti Cup team at the end of the home-and-away rounds will face an invitational non-premier team with a place in the 2024 CRL Men’s Premiership on the line, while the sixth-placed team in the Premier Reserves competition will play the top-placed side from Division One for a spot in the 2024 ISC Canterbury Cup.

Playoffs and Grand Final Day
The CRL Men’s Premiership Pat Smith Trophy playoffs get underway on August 5th, with the top two Massetti Cup teams playing for a berth in the grand final and the third- and fourth-placed sides playing an elimination semi-final.

On August 12th, the loser of the 1 v 2 clash and the winner of the 3 v 4 encounter will square off for the other place in the grand final. The sudden-death semi-finals in the ISC Canterbury Cup and Division One – 1 v 4 and 2 v 3 in both grades – will also be played on August 12th.

Canterbury Rugby League’s 2023 Grand Final Day has been locked in for Sunday, August 20th – the fifth to be held at Ngā Puna Wai. A bumper schedule will feature the CRL Men’s Premiership grand final, the Pat Smith Trophy Challenge, and the CRL Women’s Premiership, ISC Canterbury Cup and Division One grand finals.


“I am excited to see the revamped competition get underway, excited to see what teams stay inside the top six in the ISC Canterbury Cup, and even more excited to see if any team from the reserve grade will take on the challenge of playing in the promotion-relegation game on August 5th to potentially move up into the premiership for the 2024 season,” CRL Competition & Operations Manager Jordan Chand enthuses.

“It’s also great to see the reintroduction of Friday night footy under the lights – how good? And to top that off, Magic Round at Ngā Puna Wai! It’s shaping as an outstanding season ahead and we can’t wait.”

Canterbury Rugby League 2021 Season Launch
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