THE second phase of the Bolton Association season gets under way on Saturday when the league splits into three mini-divisions with the top six fighting it out for the major honours.

The 17-match “regular” season of the newly-expanded Association ended on Saturday with Flixton, Atherton, Daisy Hill, Bury, Walshaw and Elton occupying the top-six places from which the championship and Lancashire Knockout spots will be determined as teams play each other once more over the next five weekends.

Points from the five remaining games will be added to the their current totals to determine the final placings.

The six teams in each of the middle six will also play each other once in mini-leagues with incentives for teams finishing top and the points they gain also being added to the points gained over the 17 games of the regular season – even though they will be exempt from challenging for the title or Lancashire Knockout places.

However, the incentive for teams in the middle six to secure places in a 10-team Premier Division next season has all but been removed since it is now expected that the original plan to establish a two-division format will be delayed.

No final decision has been taken and the league structure for next season is only expected to be ratified at the Association’s annual meeting in November, but league sources have said there is a possibility the 2015 season will be run on the same lines as this season.

Flixton and Atherton – the two power houses of the league over the past two seasons – go into the second phase in what has developed into another two-horse race for the title with the Manchester club favourites, currently on 164 points, holding an 11-point lead over the reigning champions (153pts) with Daisy Hill (135pts), Bury (132pts), Walshaw (131pts) and Elton (130pts) seemingly fighting it out for the minor placings.

The top four will qualify for next year’s Lancashire Knockout competition but with Bury already having secured theirs by winning the Cross Cup, the team finishing fifth could qualify.

The middle six mini-division will be contested by Blackrod, Swinton-Moorside, Winton, Darcy Lever, Lostock and Edgworth while the teams competing in the bottom six will be Worsley, Standish, Adlington, Astley and Tyldesley, Golborne and Little Hulton.