From superfan to superstar: The rise of England’s Fran Goldthorp

Fran Goldthorp Leeds Rhinos women

Fran Goldthorp will continue her journey from six-year-old superfan to playing a starring role in England’s World Cup campaign on Tuesday when she steps out in front of a 16,000-strong crowd at her beloved Headingley.

Steeped in generations of the city’s sporting success, with her grandfather, father and brother all having played cricket for Yorkshire, the 19-year-old Leeds Rhinos centre will write her own chapter when the tournament hosts face Brazil in their Group A opener.

Goldthorp is equally adept at a number of sports. She also captained Yorkshire’s cricket team at junior level. But she honed her love for rugby league having stood on the terraces of the famous ground since the age of six watching stars like Kevin Sinfield and Rob Burrow.

“I remember going to games when I was very little and experiencing the whole atmosphere for which Headingley is renowned,” Goldthorp told PA.

“Having seen all those great players and now to get the chance to represent my country here is such a special honour.”

England coach hails confident Fran Goldthorp

She is a prolific try scorer who burst onto the scene at the age of 16. Goldthorp, who still lives near the stadium, will play a crucial role alongside veterans like Jodie Cunningham and captain Emily Rudge as England look to upset the odds and claim their first World Cup crown.

For England coach Craig Richards, Goldthorp typifies the kind of confidence levels that will be required for his part-time squad to pull through a difficult opening group; and prove a match for the likes of Australia and New Zealand; both of whom boast players predominantly sourced from the fully professional women’s NRL.

“I’ve never seen a more confident person in my life,” said Richards. “You don’t get many players that truly believe they are best, but Fran believes that and she produces on the field.

“There’s an air of confidence about her that even some of the more experienced players feed off. She keeps telling me there’s nothing she isn’t good at, and that’s the type of person you need in our squad.”

Leeds to become first English club to pay women’s players

Sophie Robinson Leeds Rhinos Women's Super League champions SWpix
Photo: John Clifton/SWpix

Goldthorp hopes the unprecedented profile afforded the World Cup will help revolutionise the women’s game; and backed by initiatives such as the Rhinos announcing this week that they will become the first British club to pay women players win bonuses and other “meritocratic” payments.

“It’s a great start,” said Goldthorp. “As Leeds Rhinos players we are massively privileged that we are able to experience that.

“It will make a huge difference, not having to worry about other external things. We can just go out there and concentrate on rugby. We love the game but we do need that kind of backing if we want to continue producing the performances.”

“We’re here to win a World Cup”

England open against a Brazil team. The Amazonas have touched hearts with the story of the improbable journey to their first World Cup; and for the samba rhythms and post-match dance session they brought to last week’s warm-up game against France at Featherstone.

None of which remotely impresses Richards, who has been in charge of England since the aftermath of their 2017 semi-final defeat to New Zealand; and will not be distracted by the relatively unknown quantity of Tuesday’s opposition.

“Respectfully, it doesn’t interest me who they are, it doesn’t interest me about the dancing and the razzmatazz,” added Richards.

“Everybody’s bought into them and there’s a lot of talk about them, but we’re here to win a World Cup. They’re just another team that are in the way and that’s how we’re going to approach it.”

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