Words and header picture of Lillian Seal with Chrissie Nettleton: Angela Powers
Blackpool, Bash and a little bit of history
Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside…especially when a trip to Britain’s most famous resort coincides with a proper rugby league jamboree. A full round of Championship games was a big enough draw in itself but then for the Rugby Football League to choose to kick it all off with a Women’s Super League game for the very first time was the icing on the cake. It’s so heartening to see the women’s game being pulled into the bosom of the sport and treated as a valid and prized possession. More please.
The two lucky sides to get to play at Bloomfield Road were Bradford Bulls, the reigning champions, and their opponents last year in the final, Featherstone Rovers. The two front runners last year have been experiencing a tougher comp this year and went into the game as the 5th and 6th teams in a league of 7. The crowd who turned up early to watch might not have seen a tight and tense game, but boy did they get to witness some sparkling rugby league. Bradford were dominant in the first half but Featherstone bravely fought back in the second to make it a little nervy for Bulls. Final score though 46-22, a real confidence booster for the title holders.
Pictures: Simon Hall
The victorious Bulls side had decided to make a night of it and stayed in Blackpool to celebrate, fancy dress outfits and all. But for one of their squad there was no time to party. Claire Garner stepped off the Blackpool pitch and began her journey south for another big game, this time at Twickenham. Claire is a cross-code star and on Sunday was part of the squad that tied up the Gill Burns County Championship title. Well done, Claire!
While Bradford and Fev were slugging it out on the pitch, up in the directors’ box was another big name in the women’s game, all suited up in anticipation for her appearance in the next game of the afternoon. Tara Jones was running the touchline for the Barrow v Sheffield game, and these days her appearances rarely raise an eyebrow, so familiar is she now as a rugby league official. She was in-goal touch judge in a Super League game earlier this season and it’s just a matter of time before she gets the nod to ref a game at that level. Keep it up Tara, you are inspiring a generation.
Picture: Simon Hall
Talking of the next generation, it’s heartening to hear stories coming from all over rugby league land of more and more girls turning up for taster sessions, thanks to the rising profile of the game through the Women’s Super League. One such young lady is Lillian #slamminlil Seal, who got to carry the match ball out on to the the pitch ahead of the women’s game at Blackpool and hand over the Player of the Match giant stick of rock to Chrissie Nettleton. Lil wants to play for Bradford and England at scrum half and her role models are Kirsty Moroney and Lois Forsell. Give her a few years, I reckon we’ll see her on the big stage.
Heading for Headingley
The day after watching her favourite team win in Blackpool, Lil was off to Leeds to watch another of her favourite teams Leeds (yes, Leeds AND Bradford… the very thought would give older fans heart murmurs) play on the Headingley turf for the first time. Many of the women who play in the Rhinos side had dreamed of the day they’d be able to play on that famous pitch, and their pride in being part of that game was palpable. More than 1,000 turned out to watch the game which is testament to the great work by the Leeds media team and the high standard of play the women deliver. It was a much anticipated game against high flying Castleford Tigers, but on this occasion the Rhinos were the winners, 40-12.
Time to #showup
A new twitter campaign aimed at getting people to get out of the house and onto the terraces appears to be getting traction on social media, and if the attendance figure at Emerald Headingley is anything to go by, it’s working. For too long women’s rugby league has been a hidden gem, but now myths and stereotypes are being bust and people are seeing for themselves what a fantastic and truly inclusive sport it is. Can you do your bit? Get just one new person to #showup and one by one we’ll get the world hooked.
Did someone say world? Well, this Wednesday, if you #showup, you can help set a new Guinness World Record. State of Mind is holding a mass mental health awareness lesson at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, doors open at 5pm on June 6, ready for the record attempt to begin at 6pm. You can make a difference just by being there. And it might just save a few lives along the way. Register here.
Up for the Cup
It’s a big weekend of cup action, with some intriguing ties, not least of which is the clash between St Helens and Hull FC on Sunday. It’s a rather big deal because it will be the curtain raiser to the clash between the two men’s sides in their cup quarter final. It is a fantastic opportunity for the Saints women to show the home crowd what they are all about. They are a sublimely skilful outfit, led by Mark Brennan and are a joy to watch. At least three of the squad won’t be able to enjoy the moment as they are currently sidelined but Jodie Cunningham, Jenny Welsby and Faye Gaskin will no doubt be there to enjoy the whole occasion and cheer their team on. It also means that 16-year old Eleanor Dainty gets to make her debut in the forwards. Good Luck, Eleanor! *UPDATE* Faye did, in fact, play and St Helens ran out 78-0 winners.
Challenge is on
St Helens may be the favourites but for Hull FC, a championship side with Super League ambitions, this is a great opportunity to test themselves against the best. Ditto Wakefield women who will play against Leeds Rhinos. But perhaps the game of the round is at York St John University Sports Park (kick off 2pm Sunday), where York City Knights women take on Widnes Vikings. York have put up some spirited fights in the Super League this season but are still looking for their first win. A victory over Widnes would ‘justify their place in Super League’, according to this article, as well as provide a much needed confidence boost. Widnes have struggled this year but will no doubt raise their game against Super League competition. And hey, it’s the cup. Anything can happen!