Picture: Wigan St Pats captain Sarah Harrison congratulates full back Becky Greenfield on her match-winning try.
BY ANGELA POWERS
It didn’t start well for the Featherstone Ladies team. As kick off loomed in this first Premier Division game of the summer season, several of their squad were still on the M62.
Listed to start at 2pm, they delayed the kick off until 2.40pm, despite the fact that only ten of the Yorkshire side had made it to Wigan St Patricks thanks to the motorway closure. So ten lined up against ten of the Wigan Ladies side, just as the drizzle began to fall, enveloping the players and spectators in a damp, cold blanket. But somehow, the conditions played their part in producing a game of rugby league that was low-scoring but compelling.
There are 11 sides in the 2017 Women’s premier division, and Featherstone Rovers are tipped to be one of the sides challenging for honours. Thatto Heath St Helens remain the favourites undoubtedly – they have dominated league and cup for the last few years – but much is expected of this Featherstone outfit, led by former England player Brenda Dobek.
Wigan St Pats Ladies in contrast are a young developing side who had scant opportunities to train together before kick off last Sunday. By the time the final whistle blew, they were celebrating their first win of the season.
In a tight first half, there was little to separate the two sides, both scoring a single try each. Gillian Aspin notched up Wigan’s first try, Featherstone bringing the scores to 4-4 thanks to a touchdown by Grace Field. And that’s how it stood for 40 minutes, but at least by half time, all 13 of the Yorkshire club’s squad had made it to the Harper Street ground.
As the drizzle fell even heavier, the conditions got boggier and the defences got tighter, neither side showing the other any chinks in their armour. It soon became clear as the second half progressed that it would take something special from either side to get the ball over the line.
With about 10 or so minutes to go, that ‘something special’ happened. From the half way line, Wigan kicked on the fifth, a seemingly simple kick-return on the cards for Rovers. But they say ‘never let a ball bounce’, and if you do, be the first to get to it. Wigan’s chase was swift and Rovers failed to wrap up the ball. Instead Becky Greenfield, St Pats’ young full back, put foot to ball and kicked ahead, not once but twice before pouncing on it just as it crossed the line.
“I was scared I would over-kick it,” said Greenfield afterwards. “It bounced up well and I just dropped on it. It was always gonna to be a hard match but we are very happy with the result.
Greenfield grounds the ball to score the match winning try
“We just put ourselves on the line and tried our best. We have barely practiced… we have only had two practice sessions and we have lots of new players and we didn’t really know how each other played, so we thought just use it to see how everyone gels together.”
With about 8 minutes remaining, the pressure was on Rovers to strike back, but the Wigan defence was tight and stoic. Featherstone simply couldn’t break them down, lacking enough attacking flare to get over the line as the seconds ticked away. St Pats girls’ delight at the whistle was obvious – this had been a fantastic ‘scalp’ on day one of the summer campaign.
For Rovers’ coach Dobek, the disappointment was palpable.
“Very disappointing, the girls feel down about it, I feel down about it but we will rebuild and come back next week.
“It was a massive effort today, certainly not a lack of effort, it was just one of those games where it didn’t come together for us.
“Defence was solid on both sides and it was just a matter of who would crack first and unfortunately it was us at the back end of the game. It is a great scalp for them, congratulations to them for putting on the performance that they did. We will bounce back. We had some key players out but we are not making that our excuse, we still had a good team. We came with a bare 13 anyway, after about 30 minutes though we were back up to a full complement. Preparation wise it meant the players had to play out of position so that wasn’t good.”
Despite the loss, she was upbeat about Rovers’ prospects for the season.
“We have a really good squad, and we’ve got a good squad of youngsters probably seven, eight, nine of them under 18s, so the aim is to get them involved and bring them up to scratch to play with the experienced players we have.”
Thatto Heath began their campaign with a huge away win over Oulton Raidettes, coming away victors 62-0, and the newly formed Wakefield Trinity Ladies fell to defeat in their first fixture, losing 56-10 to Stanningley (other results here).
Brenda Dobek said: “Definitely Thatto are the team that every other team will be looking to compete well against, Bradford have had some disruption pre season, I’m not even sure they have anywhere to play yet but they will still be competing with the best. It is good to see that there are more teams coming into the women’s game and good luck to every one of them.”
A magnanimous sentiment despite the obvious disappointment of defeat, but Dobek is experienced enough to know that a strong competition can only be good for the women’s game as a whole, a ray of sunshine on an otherwise damp and dismal away day.