Jo’s calling the shots

One of the many advances this year in the Women’s Super League is the fantastic commitment by clubs to live stream their games, and it is proving to be popular addition to the game day experience. Her RL’s Jo Phillips joined the commentary team when Featherstone Rovers hosted Leeds Rhinos. Here’s her experience.

By Joanne Phillips

Rugby league isn’t short of women who want to talk about the game…doing it with a microphone in hand then seems the obvious next step. Joanne Fitzpatrick is an extremely able game day commentator for Featherstone Rovers men’s team and Sharon Shortle, BBC  Radio York’s sports presenter and producer has been doing it brilliantly for years too.

It’s a no brainer then that women who have played, coached and managed teams will add something significant to the commentary offerings, and I was delighted to be asked to share my thoughts when Featherstone took on Leeds.

Firstly, the game. It was a highly anticipated fixture between two formidable teams

In the pre-match promotion, on social media, Featherstone Rovers used the hashtag #ThisIsOurHouse, which alludes to the home team refusing to be dominated in their own surroundings, but Leeds Rhinos arrived at the stadium with different intentions. 

Evening kick-offs are notoriously difficult to participate in, primarily because for the majority of these women, they have been to work or college for a full day, and from my own experience, I can categorically confirm that you can feel physically and mentally fatigued before you’ve even laced up your boots.

However, we are in a new era of the female game, and there’s a tangible difference in how the players within the Super League function.

IMG_0070Jo and her co-commentators one facebook live….comments ‘n’ all.

The Super League is developing and transforming the calibre of these players, and the input from their professional clubs is instrumental in the enhanced quality of these players and the overall quality within the competing teams. 

This was reflected throughout the duration of the game.

From the kick-off, and despite the absence of their captain, influential dummy-half Lois Forsell, it was Leeds who were the more dominant unit, demonstrating that they have real depth and substance within their squad.

Leeds played with conviction and cohesion in attack, and were clinical with the execution of their plays.

Defensively, they were impenetrable for the majority of the first half, with a disciplined defensive line, and aggressive and fast with their line speed.

Leeds also dominated in possession and territory, with the Rhinos forwards Priim and Anderson gaining meters in field position, and creating openings for the backs. 

All of this was reflected in the first half scoreline, which saw the visitors enter half-time 28-0 to the good.

Featherstone Rovers, the more experienced of the two teams, demonstrated why they have obtained the reputation of being one of the most physical teams to compete against, completing some colossal hits against their opponents. 

Despite their hard work and endeavour defensively, unforced errors, and on occasions some poor discipline, led to them losing their structure, which Leeds exploited.

Possession and field position was another issue for the spirited Featherstone side, and when they did gain possession, they didn’t capitalise on that in terms of field position.

The half-time scoreline didn’t reflect though the work rate of Featherstone, who despite encountering vigorous opponents, demonstrated real resolve and resilience. A real display of this came in the form of winger and England International, Kayleigh Bullman, who chased down Rhinos Full-Back and fellow England star Charlotte Booth, who had collected a loose ball, and made a 60 metre break, with Bullman making the tackle that prevented Booth from making the further 40 metres and scoring. 

In attack, Featherstone lacked the ingenuity that their opponents were displaying. 

The second-half commenced with a more disciplined and tenacious Featherstone side, who appeared to want to realign the parity. 

Rovers began to obtain position and field position with powerful carries by forwards Brogan Churm and Jasmine Bell, but more importantly they began to play a more expansive game, passing the ball more and running some good lines.

Leeds Rhinos demonstrated some solid goal line defence, maintaining discipline and composure throughout Featherstone’s repeat sets. 

This is when Leeds looked like sheer class, and serious contenders for silverware this season.

In their preseason friendly against Castleford Tigers, which Leeds lost, I spoke to Forsell after the game, and she said that although the Rhinos had periods of strong defensive play, they had to learn to sustain that for the full 80 minutes, but acknowledged that she was positive that they would train hard to rectify that- it was evident from this performance, that they had achieved that. 

Although Featherstone were much improved in the second half, it was Rhinos who scored consecutively, with Caitlin Beevers and Suze Hill adding to the scoreline, with two unconverted tries, taking the scoreline to 36-0.

Featherstone’s resolve and hard work eventually paid dividends with a try from the number 8 Bell, and the conversion by Andrea Dobson.

The game finished 36-6.

Attending and summarising this game as a neutral, I can categorically confirm that the Women’s Super League is evolving into a dynamic and exciting competition. 

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the rugby league fraternity, and beyond, as signified by the attendance of supporters.

What was equally as encouraging is the audiences that the women’s super league is engaging.

Featherstone Rovers live-streaming generated viewing figures of over 12,000. That is a substantial audience, and is further evidence that the female game is fast becoming recognised as one of the most exciting sporting competitions in the country. 

We cannot underestimate the importance of attracting viewing figures like this, and what live-streaming and broadcasting these games can achieve in relation to the sustainability and growth of the female game. 

Increasing participation within the sport is of paramount importance, but also increasing the target audience too. 

The more the female game grows in popularity, the more its profile is raised, the more probable someone astute enough, is going to acknowledge the viability of televising the Women’s Super League games, and fundamentally, this is how the sport will generate revenue, and we all are aware of how vital financial investments are in terms of development.

So clubs like Featherstone, are going to be integral in enabling the female game to evolve into what we all envision it can be. 

Their commitment to streaming games is key, and Featherstone Rovers media and Broadcasting team are to be commended for their efforts.

On Wednesday,  I was really struck by the teams’ enthusiasm and excitement pertaining to the female game.

Reading the reactions on Facebook relating to the game being streamed, it’s another indication that the Women’s Super League is an exciting commodity. 

With the Summer Bash hosting the women’s fixture between old rivals Featherstone and Bradford Bulls, it’s all testament to the rapid interest in women’s rugby league.

It’s a very exciting era, full of opportunities and prospects for these girls and women, and importantly future generations of players.

For so long, the women’s game has been a diamond in the dust, and finally, with the launch of the Super League, it’s been unearthed, polished and is now shining brightly.

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