For anyone hunting an afternoon of sporting progressivism and a sign of the game above, there couldn’t be many better places to spend a Sunday afternoon than Headingley.
As Yorkshire’s county championship opener against Leicestershire went down to the final in front of several hundred members, on one side of Headingley University, on the other side of the new multimillion-dollar stand that pierces the length of this part of north Leeds, records were broken on a momentous day for women’s rugby league. A few years ago, clubs like Leeds and York didn’t even have a women’s rugby league.
In fact, the country’s best players were restricted to performing on local pitches in front of a handful of dog walkers, and those early commuters to the women’s game were always quick to recall stories of cleaning up broken glass from pitches before they laid. outfit.
The question was always going to be what kind of legacy the 2023 Women’s Super League could build after last year’s World Cup; here we got the encouraging open answer.
“The women’s game has the potential to be the fastest growing and most exciting part of rugby league,” Leeds head coach Lois Forsell said. “It’s a slow burner, though. we have to be patient and we have to get it right.”
Leeds have committed to playing most of their WSL games this year with double headers alongside their male counterparts this year. Others followed suit. But the women’s side is building its mainstay, as evidenced by the number of young girls adorning their new heroine names, such as English superstar Amy Hardcastle and New Zealand sensation Georgia Hale.
They were part of a record WSL crowd of 5,308 to watch the 2022 champions defeat an impressive York Valkyrie outfit in the second leg of the Grand Final. For the first time there were more than competitive points on the line as well. Leeds and York announced in the winter that they would be the first clubs to pay their players this season, albeit limited to winning bonuses rather than full-time professional contracts.
Still, it’s a huge step forward for women’s rugby league, unthinkable even two years ago, and one that means both of these teams are in the running to become the first WSL team to be paid for their efforts on the field. In the end, it was York who earned the honor. “That’s a fact, aren’t we the first team to pay our players?” York’s director of rugby, Lindsay Enfield, said with a smile afterwards:
“How exciting for them and us as a club that they are the first group of female players to get money in the bank. A few years ago I used to sell raffle tickets before games when I was coaching Castleford. Today was a different level and ceiling-wise for this sport… who knows now?” It’s an exciting thought considering how far we’ve come since the 2017 competition began.
The WSL’s progress has been further highlighted by growing speculation that some of the competition’s top players are heading to Australia’s NRL Women’s Championship this year, where the players are largely full-time. Leeds duo Fran Goldthorpe and Georgia Roche are falling in love and both are expected to leave.
York’s Holly-Mae Dodd, who scored in their 34-12 win, is certain to miss out, with Anfield confirming the post-match fixture. Dodd will sign with Canberra, while Roche is likely to join Newcastle.
In the five months following the World Cup, the participation of under-16 girls increased by 200%. Some of the stars of tomorrow will be here to watch these trajectories, and one day when payments for players finally become a reality, one couldn’t help but wonder what a ceiling the young women who were inspired to take up the game would be. may face a few years down the road given the trajectory the sport has enjoyed so far.
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