CATALANS Dragons will defend the Challenge Cup in 2019 after settling their dispute with the Rugby Football League.

The French club made history last August by becoming the first overseas club to win the famous knockout trophy, but their participation this year was thrown into some doubt when they refused to pay a £500,000 bond.

The RFL, keen to avoid another financial hit after last year's final was watched by just 50,672 fans, confirmed it had reached an agreement with the Catalans and also announced a two-year sponsorship deal with bookmakers Coral.

The Dragons will enter the competition, as scheduled, at the sixth round stage in May.

Catalans chairman Bernard Guasch said: "I'm really happy to announce that we will participate to this prestigious competition in 2019.

"After weeks of open and honest discussions with Ralph Rimmer, we have indeed reached a compromise with the RFL."

The tournament kicks off this weekend under the banner of Coral, who have taken over from Ladbrokes, the company with which they merged 12 months ago, and will also sponsor the women's Challenge Cup as part of a seven-figure deal.

The governing body also announced that the semi-finals will once more be played as a double-header at the University of Bolton Stadium on Saturday, July 27, following the sell-out in 2018.

It will become a triple header this year, with the Coral Women's Challenge Cup Final sharing the same stage.

"This is a really significant day both for the Challenge Cup, and for women's rugby league," said RFL chief executive Rimmer.

"The men's Challenge Cup is one of the iconic competitions and trophies of British sport, with more than 120 years of history, and the famous Wembley final televised live to the nation and the world by the BBC.

"The Women's Challenge Cup may not have that history, but Coral's enthusiasm for it to be part of a joint sponsorship deal confirms our determination that it is set for a really exciting future.

"With Coral's name now linked to both the men's and women's Challenge Cups, it's equally exciting to be able to extend the double header for the men's semi finals that proved such a big hit last year, and now incorporate the Coral Women's Challenge Cup Final."

The competition, which culminates at Wembley on Saturday, August 24, begins this weekend with 52 community clubs competing in first-round ties from Portsmouth to Wallsend, and featuring Sunday's meeting on the Cumbrian coast between the oldest amateur club in the country, Millom, and Serbian newcomers Red Star Belgrade.

Bradford Dudley Hill host Milford Marlins, while West Bowling entertain Hammersmith Hills Hoists.