On the eve of the first full Super League season, we’re all getting a bit giddy about seeing some of the new stars in the making.
Every team has recruited some newbies to complement their roster of seasoned players, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how they blend in the first games this Sunday.
The new girls will be learning a lot from the ‘old’ guard and this week we throw the spotlight on one of the most experienced players. Danika Priim was in the Bradford team that swept the board last year. This year she’s moved to new team Leeds Rhinos. Here she speaks to JO PHILLIPS about her life in league.
JO: Danika, give us a little bit of background into your rugby league career?
DANIKA: My first experience of playing was aged 10, at a time when there wasn’t a lot of provision.
After a long time out injured, I returned to playing in 2015 with Stanningley, which is where I really learned my core skills.
I was selected to play for England that same year, against France, which raised the possibility of selection for the World Cup. That is what really influenced my move to Bradford Bulls. After that great season last year, I won selection for the World Cup in Australia.
When Leeds Rhinos set up their team, I went for trials and was lucky enough to get a place in the squad. After many months of hard training, was honoured to be appointed vice captain.
JO: What’s your job outside of league?
DANIKA: I have just left my job as head of PE at an academy in Bradford, to teach at a school in Leeds, which will give me more time to concentrate on playing with Leeds Rhinos.”
Inevitably, with planning and teaching lessons, my days were long.
Typically, I’d arrive in school between 6.30-7am, and usually leave between 6.30-7pm. It’s a very substantial working day.
JO: How often do you train with Leeds Rhinos, and what does a session usually involve?
DANIKA: We train twice a week together. Tuesdays are generally strength and conditioning, then defensive drills in the ruck room. Thursdays, we have field sessions, were we work on attacking plays and defensive structure.
In addition to this, we all have a strength and conditioning programme, that we need to complete independently, at least three times a week.
JO: Is it physically and mentally exhausting to combine a full time career with trying to become a successful athlete?
DANIKA: Without a doubt. I mean, after a particularly hard working day, there’s that inner conflict of wanting to curl up in front of the TV, or being disciplined and going to the gym to ensure I’m the best I can be. I always do the latter, because I have set myself that challenge and made that commitment. I don’t have the luxury of options if I am to compete at the highest level.
JO: The Women’s Super League is hoping to redefine rugby league for women, by creating an elite league. Does this increase expectations in terms of performance?
DANIKA: The “new look” Super League is really exciting, and with so many professional teams now involved, it’s helped raise the profile, so naturally there is an expectation for us to raise the performance in women’s game.
It’s one of the deciding factors for me accepting a job with fewer hours, because I’m determined to fulfil my ambitions within rugby league, and I want to achieve more representative honours.
For years, the domestic game has been about a group of women who love the sport, who like socialising, who would turn up on a Sunday, throw on a shirt and battle it out for 80 minutes. However, I think that in order for the women’s game to be taken more seriously as a brand in which to invest, we ourselves have to take it more seriously, which means commitment to training and the extras.
It was evident at international level, that the nations that support the women’s game, are more successful. The players are more athletic. I believe England have the skill levels to compete, but previously have maybe lacked the athleticism to perform at the highest level for the duration of a tournament. Hopefully, the Women’s Super League will help enhance our performance levels, and with professional input from clubs, the quality of the women’s game will vastly improve and put us in contention to challenge for the 2021 World Cup.”
JO: You competed in the 2017 World Cup in Australia. Do you think the logistical issues surrounding scheduling training camps and working schedules, has an impact on preparation and performance?
DANIKA: It’s not ideal. As an England squad, we met on weekends, which often involved a two or four hour round trip, and twelve hours for one of the squad members.
We were tired, but who isn’t after a long week at work? Yet, we trained hard. We had the mentality that whatever had occurred throughout the week, we had to switch off from, that nothing could distract our focus.
I think that’s a credit to us as a squad that we managed to successfully do that.”
JO: Do you think that the framework which Australia has adopted, in offering 40 contracts to female players, will enable them to focus solely on their rugby; subsequently enhancing their abilities and performance?
DANIKA: YES YES YES!!! I have no doubts that we had the quality within that squad to achieve great things. What we didn’t have, was the time to train individually and as a squad.
I have contemplated since then, what we could have achieved if we had had even five days consistent training prior to flying out.
The weekend sessions were good, but to have had 5 days, would have substantially helped our preparations, but jobs, time and money wouldn’t permit that.
I was very lucky that my employers granted me a month off, so that added week may have been more difficult to negotiate, but it would have helped us.
Australia looked like elite athletes and that was represented by their performance, it’s a credit to their system. They’ve created a pathway, which I hope other countries will follow in order to create more competitive tournaments.
JO: If you had the option, would you chose to be a professional rugby league player, and if so what impact do you think that would have on you individual, and ultimately on our national team?
DANIKA: This is a question I got asked a few times last year. Prior to the World Cup, I was unsure of my answer, as I love teaching. However, after the World Cup, I realised that my time as an athlete is limited. I can teach until I’m 65, but I need to embrace my rugby ambitions now!
I think as an individual, I would be fitter, I would be able to further develop my skill set, and I would have the opportunity to focus all my time and energy into perfecting my performance.
I think if every player within the national team were able to do this, then it would dramatically impact our performance, and create a better standard for selection. I think it would create more competition for selection, which is always a key factor in driving you forward as a player, and allowing you to progress.
JO: Finally, what are you hopes for the Women’s Super League?
DANIKA: I would love nothing more than to see it become a professional league and I’m sure by the time I hang my boots up it will be.
For now though, it’s about setting a platform to show off the talent and abilities within our game.
The amount that women’s rugby league has progressed in the last two years, is simply insane, and this is only the surface.
I am excited at the prospects for myself, and for future generations.