…but will it be good enough?

Forty-20 magazine has a new column by Angela Powers, dedicated to the women’s game. Here’s the first one.

 

We know when it will kick off and we know which teams will be taking part – it’s what we don’t know that’s the interesting bit…the standard of rugby league are we going to see when the Women’s Super League actually gets underway.

For the last few years, we have watched Bradford and Thatto Heath battling against each other for the top honours, and the quality of the competition has been getting better and better.

But with this revolution in the women’s game, it’s hard to predict what level of league we will see.  Will it be a Super League only in name, something quite different in reality?

The reigning champions are Bradford Bulls, who took the title last year in a dominant display against Featherstone Rovers. It was the first Super League Grand Final, after a soft-launch season, testing the waters for the full throttle contest that starts on April 15 this year.

Merry-Go-Round

Bradford had been unbeaten all season, winning the Challenge Cup too. But this year they will be an unknown quantity,  and that’s because over the last few months there has been a merry-go-round of players, some coming in, some going out. The Bulls have lost four senior, experienced women, including Lois Forsell, their talismanic hooker and England star.

She has opted to move to the brand new women’s set up at Leeds Rhinos. It makes sense really …she is from Leeds and works for the Rhinos’ Foundation as a development officer.  At the Super League launch in January, she stood in her blue and amber kit next to her old teammate, Bulls captain Kirsty Moroney. There seemed to be no hard feelings.

Bradford head coach Mark Prescott isn’t quite going back to the drawing board in terms of building his squad for the next season, but the challenge is on to entice new players,  although not necessarily from the community clubs.

“We have had open trials and haven’t finished recruiting yet, but we are looking to attract women to Bradford who might never have played the game before. We are interested in athletes with potential. We have people who have played football, rugby union and badminton.

“The open training session…allowed us to work with some talented players that may not have come to our attention,” said Prescott.

Starting from Scratch

As title holders, Bradford start out as the team to catch. “Yes, there is some pressure,” admitted Prescott. “Everyone will be wanting to beat us. The aim isn’t to replicate what we did last year though. It’s to raise the bar.”

The pressure then, surely, has to be on teams starting from scratch, even if they do get off to a good start with a capture like Forsell.  At Leeds, every player will be new to the club and even their coach, senior Rhinos team member Adam Cuthbertson, is a beginner.

They do have the machine of a top club behind them though, as do Wigan Warriors.  Their head coach Amanda Wilkinson has completed her team recruitment… the next step was getting out on the training pitch and testing their skills in anger. As I spoke to her she had yet to see them together with a ball in hand. “We are ready though…we have the time and everything in place and we are excited,” she said. “What’s been good for us is having the full support of the club behind us. We can only benefit from that.”

So which clubs make up the first proper women’s super league? There are the existing clubs Bradford, Castleford and Featherstone Rovers, St Helens come in as an amalgamation with Thatto Heath, then there are the new clubs Widnes, Wigan, Leeds and York City Knights. The latter is a rather surprising inclusion, but if you speak to the club’s new chairman and owner, you’ll soon work out that ambition isn’t dependant upon the size of the club. Having a women’s section – and a team in Super League – is a no brainer to Jon Flatman.

Let’s Embrace It

“We want a club and a sport that is open to everybody,” he said. “Not only will it open up commercial revenues and opportunities, but it’s also about widening the appeal of rugby league to the other 50 per cent of the population, let’s embrace it. Let’s embrace all facets of the community.

“All clubs have to make choices about investment and where they will put their limited resources, and this is something we are serious about. We are a closely knit group and the women’s team were represented at our presentation evening. They are part of our identity.  It’ll be the three of us together, the club, the girls and women, and the foundation.”

With recruitment still underway at most clubs, it’s clear that some will hit kick-off better prepared than others. Some will come with more resources (I gather they will all get an amount from headquarters towards their set up costs and equipment), others will have to do the best with what they have.

As kick off looms we still await news on any central sponsorship that might have been secured, or the wider plans for expansion beyond the so-called heartlands. But there are eight teams, and there’s a start date. That’ll do for now.

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