International rugby league is back the afternoon with a double header between England and France.
While much has been said about the availability, or lack of, for the men’s test, for the women it’s another example to show just how far they have come.
There was a time when playing a double header international with the men would have been seen as extraordinary.
But now, in a year where the women’s Challenge Cup final will be played at Wembley ahead of the men’s, such is the growth and recognition of the women’s game that it just feels like the norm.
In the week, new England women’s coach Stuart Barrow and his newly-appointed captain Jodie Cunningham shared a press conference top table with men’s coach Shaun Wane and star full-back Jack Welsby.
Cunningham has had a front row seat in experiencing the growth in the women’s game, to the pinch me moments of playing at big stadiums on big occasions that are now becoming a regular thing.
For Barrow, today will be a pinch me moment regardless – it’s his first as head coach of his country, a dream come true.
He told Love Rugby League: “It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I’ve been involved with England. I coached England Academy back in the day and that gave me a lot of pride, so to now do this.
“Just being present with Shaun and Jack and the others just shows where the women’s game has got to. To have a big double header in a big stadium is now not seen to be exceptional, it’s a bit more normal, especially after the World Cup where we saw the men, the women and wheelchair.”
Eyes will be on NRLW bound duo Georgia Roche and Hollie Dodd, turning out for England before they become full-time professionals Down Under.
There are some popular returnees to the England fold too, in York duo Sinead Peach and Tamzin Renouf, surprisingly overlooked for the past three years.
It’s Barrow’s first chance to put his own stamp on the squad, but he is wary of the threat caused by France, themselves under a new coach in Romain Maillot.
Barrow added: “I think they were a little bit disappointed with the World Cup, so they’ve had a review and changed the coach and from the review, we can see they’re playing a bit different and a little bit more like the French flair we expect, throwing the ball around a little bit more, so we’ve got to be on our guard and expect that on Saturday.”
England beat France at Warrington last season in their last meeting, coming home 36-10 ahead of 3,752 fans. The last time they failed to beat France was when the two sides drew 14-all in Bordeaux in June 2015.
England v France women, Saturday 29 April, 2pm kick-off
England women: Savannah Andrade (York Valkyrie), Keara Bennett (Leeds Rhinos), Leah Burke, Jodie Cunningham © (both St Helens), Hollie-Mae Dodd, Grace Field (both York Valkyrie), Amy Hardcastle (Leeds Rhinos), Zoe Harris, Shona Hoyle, Tara Jones (all St Helens), Vicky Molyneux (Wigan Warriors), Eboni Partington (St Helens), Sinead Peach, Tara-Jane Stanley, Tamzin Renouf (all York Valkyrie), Georgia Roche (Leeds Rhinos), Emily Rudge (St Helens), Vicky Whitfield (St Helens), Olivia Wood (York Valkyrie)
France women: Elisa Akpa (Saint-Estève XIII Catalan), Lauréane Biville (RC Lescure Arthès XIII), Margot Canal (Saint-Estève XIII Catalan), Lauriane Canet (XIII Limouxin), Cloé Guillerot (RC Lescure Arthès XIII), Tallis Kuresa (RC Bègles XIII), Inès Legout (AS Ayguesvives XIII), Sarah Menaa (Saint-Estève XIII Catalan), Lise Michel (AS Ayguesvives XIII), Zoé Pastre Courtine (Saint-Estève XIII Catalan), Mahault Pommier (AS Ayguesvives XIII), Perle Ramazeilles (RC Lescure Arthès XIII), Fanny Ramos (Saint-Estève XIII Catalan), Alice Rieunaud (RC Lescure Arthès XIII), Justine Roses (Saint-Estève XIII Catalan), Dorine Samarra (RC Lescure Arthès XIII), Manon Samarra (RC Lescure Arthès XIII), Salomé Segala (RC Lescure Arthès XIII), Amael Vilanove (AS Ayguesvives XIII), Nabila Zaghdoudi (Toulouse Ovalie)
Putting their hands up for the men
England men’s coach Shaun Wane sensibly batted off awkward questions about the make-up of his squad at his midweek press conference.
In his first game since the heartbreaking World Cup semi-final defeat to Samoa in golden point extra time, Wane will hand debuts to several new faces after his initial 40-man squad was decimated by injury and suspensions.
Instead of hanging any players or clubs out to dry, Wane insisted that withdrawals were genuine and that Super League clubs were supportive of the England set up.
France are under-strength too, though Wane might have been confident in the team he will be putting out in beating a full-strength France side anyway.
The game therefore becomes an opportunity for fringe players to put their hands up for the end of season series against Tonga, finally announced on Friday.
Three tests at Huddersfield, Leeds and St Helens will be played, and with up to a dozen eligible players in the NRL expected to put their hands up for England at the end of the year, some may not get a better opportunity to impress Wane than this France game.
England v France men, Saturday 29 April, 4.30pm kick-off
England men: Matty Ashton, Ben Currie (both Warrington Wolves), Tyler Dupree (Salford Red Devils), Ash Handley (Leeds Rhinos), James Harrison (Warrington Wolves), Ethan Havard (Wigan Warriors), Tom Holroyd (Leeds Rhinos), Toby King (Wigan Warriors), Mikey Lewis, Jez Litten (both Hull KR), Matty Nicholson (Warrington Wolves), Kai Pearce-Paul, Harry Smith, Morgan Smithies (all Wigan Warriors), Josh Thewlis, Danny Walker (both Warrington Wolves), Jake Wardle (Wigan Warriors), Jack Welsby (St Helens), George Williams (Warrington Wolves).
France men: Tiaki Chan (Catalans Dragons), Mathieu Cozza (Featherstone Rovers), Jordan Dezaria (Catalans Dragons), Romain Franco (Saint-Estève XIII Catalan), Mickael Goudemand (Catalans Dragons), Louis Jouffret (Halifax Panthers), Benjamin Jullien (Pia XIII), Mathieu Jussaume (Toulouse Olympique), Matthieu Laguerre (Catalans Dragons), Samisoni Langi (Wakefield Trinity), Paul Marcon (Toulouse Olympique), Anthony Marion (Toulouse Olympique), Arthur Mourgue (Catalans Dragons), Arthur Romano (Catalans Dragons), César Rougé (Catalans Dragons), Justin Sangaré (Leeds Rhinos),Bastien Scimone (Catalans Dragons), Ugo Tison (Catalans Dragons), Florian Vailhen (Pia XIII), Tanguy Zenon (Catalans Dragons)
Both England sides will wear specially-designed kits for the internationals, inspired by a shirt associated with Rob Burrow, in aid of the MND Association. For every ticket sold to the match, £2.50 will be donated to the MND Association.
Both games are being broadcast live on Sky Sports Arena.