FEATURED IMAGE: Thatto Heath captain, and England star Jenny Welsby, lifts the inaugural European cup after victory against Biganos last year. Can Jenny and her England compatriots really challenge for a world title?
WITH less than a year to go, excitement is already growing for a landmark Women’s World Cup in Australia.
WORDS: LORRAINE MARSDEN
THE best of the world’s female Rugby League talent will be on show in Australia next November, when six nations converge on Cronulla to battle it out for World Cup supremacy.
In a first for the women’s game, not only will the competition be played alongside the men’s tournament, but in an even more significant move, this is the first year in which the ladies will have their trip and participation fully funded.
England will travel Down Under and take on Papua New Guinea, Australia and the Cook Islands, in three triple-headers, making up the group stages, before hoping to progress to the semi-final and the Final, which will be played in Brisbane ahead of the culmination of the men’s World Cup competition.
England captain Andrea Dobson, who featured in her first World Cup as a 16 year-old in 2003, knows that her side will face a huge battle to make that showpiece game, but is looking forward to the challenge of leading the team into battle.
“Even though it’s still a year away it’s not that long in terms of preparation and it will be here before we know it,” 29 year-old Dobson told Rugby League World.
“I have held just about every position in the England team over the years. I have been a 16 year-old new player and a squad player but not a first team player and then managed to get in to first team. But there was always a group of senior players in front of me.
“At that point it never crossed my mind I could captain the side, but a few players retired after 2013 and I got my chance. It is a dream come true to play for England and to get the chance to captain them in a World Cup.
“The test match win against France in October’s game was a good marker to see where we are and have a look at certain players ahead of the World Cup.
“But playing teams like Australia and New Zealand is another three or four steps up from that and nothing can prepare you 100 percent or coming up against those teams.
“We just need to go into the competition as best prepared as we can with the belief that we can go there and beat them.
“It is definitely going to be tough as the Southern Hemisphere teams will be very physical. They may not play to the same standard as Australia and New Zealand but they are hard to face. It’s about us sticking to our game plan and not letting their physicality knock us off.
“This is certainly the biggest World Cup to be involved in. They have always been a separate event as part of a Festival of World Cups so this is a real milestone for the women’s game and shows how much it’s growing.
“It does mean though that there is some pressure on us to go out there and perform to keep that momentum going.
“The rise in participation in union after England won their Women’s World Cup was massive and if we can do something similar for our game that would be great. It would give any new girls taking it up something to really aspire to.”
Preparations for the competition started shortly after they finished third behind Australia and New Zealand in the 2013 tournament, which formed part of that summer’s Festival of World Cups.
Whilst disappointed at the outcome of that tournament, plans were quickly put in place to ensure that every member of the squad faced more competition and preparation for this event.
The Associations Cup, contested by the England Lionesses, England Students, Great Britain Teachers and the Great Britain Armed Forces, has been launched giving all players some regular competitive action.
Alongside that, the most impressive players from across the three-game competition are given the chance to link up with the National Training Squad, who meet throughout the year with the aim of making the national side as competitive as possible.
“In 2013 we had a group of players who had played a lot of their club rugby together and had played for England for a long time and that’s why we were disappointed we didn’t do better than we did,” added Dobson.
“After that, a lot of senior players retired or went off to have babies and we were left with just seven or eight players so we’ve done quite a big rebuilding job since then to try and get back to where we want to be.
“The more support we get from the RFL the better and the input they have made to the performance department can only be a positive thing for the game.
“It’s a really big step up to go from club rugby to training with and playing for England, so by bringing the Associations Cup in it has strengthened the women’s game across the board.
“It’s meant that players are introduced to that higher intensity play a lot sooner which has a knock on effect for the national team.
“We have got a good core now and a great group of players, so it is looking very promising and we still have a year to get better. We will have a competitive squad as there’d be no point going out there if we didn’t.”
This feature appears in January’s edition of Rugby League World, available in newsagents now.