With the new Super League season on the horizon, and a historic World Cup just around the corner, women’s rugby league has never been in a better place.
An expanded 10-team competition will provide the pinnacle of the domestic game, a double-header Grand Final at Headingley in October, while the Challenge Cup final will once again sit alongside the men’s semi-finals in a triple header at Bolton.
Participation continues to increase, and awareness of the women’s game is at an all-time high.
But with that comes challenges.
England captain Emily Rudge represented the women’s side at the World Cup draw in January, where they were grouped with Papua New Guinea, Canada and Brazil in a home tournament that they will be desperate to win.
Attending the draw itself was a challenge for Rudge, who has a full-time job as a teacher and admits getting the time off to attend events, training and games is sometimes difficult.
She said: “It’s tough at the minute. We’re kind of in limbo in the sense that the women’s game is being shown as more professional – but we’re still not professional, we’re classed as amateur.
“It’s tough for the girls to balance work life and commitments to rugby. You want to be the best athlete you can and to do that you’ve got to work hard, and sometimes that’s tough to balance.
“But I think the backing that Super League has given us and the World Cup now, it’s only a matter of time before the game becomes professional, if not then semi-professional, and I think that will take us to new heights and build the strength there.”
Rudge’s enthusiasm for the game is infectious, and being in her company, you can almost feel the fact that she can scarcely believe the opportunities that being a women’s rugby league player can now present.
She will be joined at St Helens by her wife Gemma Walsh, who has made the move from Wigan, a trail blazed by very few before.
The Super League season kicks off on March 29, and no doubt women’s rugby league will develop further in 2020.
Alongside St Helens and Wigan in the competition are champions Leeds, new sides Warrington and Huddersfield plus Bradford, Castleford, Featherstone, Wakefield and York.
She added: “It’s incredible. I feel extremely privileged to be a part of it. The fact that the women’s game is now in line with the men’s for the World Cup is brilliant. We will be playing at bigger and better stadiums than we ever have before and the backing and support from the RFL and the World Cup has been unreal so far.
“Women’s rugby league has taken massive strides since I started playing, but to be honest, I feel like this is where it should be and I feel like the women’s game is growing as it should.
“For the women’s game, the more women and girls playing it is only going to strengthen us at the top and at the elite level. The more pool of players you’ve got to pick from, the better quality players you’re going to get.
“It’s massively exciting and I would never have expected it to get to this level, I’m so glad it has, and I hope it continues to grow and I’m sure that the World Cup being here in 2021 will only help the women’s game and put us on a platform to more people.”