From Muay Thai to Super League, Huddersfield captain Bethan Oates keen to create Giants legacy

Aaron Bower

Huddersfield Giants Bethan Oates. Credit - Huddersfield Giants

For most Women’s Super League players, the ultimate goal is simply assumed to be the day when they can turn professional and leave their day jobs behind. But Bethan Oates is not your average WSL player.

The Huddersfield Giants captain has dreams and ambitions which extend far beyond her own personal financial incentives. Her journey to this point, captaining her local club, has certainly not been conventional, given how she was a British champion in Muay Thai as a teenager.

“I didn’t even think about rugby league until I was 19,” she reveals. “I did Muay Thai before and became British champion and then I stopped that. I lost a fight and had a huff about whether it was my fault or not and then just fell out of love with it.”

After losing that fight and deciding the sport was no longer for her, she was ultimately convinced at the age of 19 to try her hand at rugby league with Thornhill Trojans. But even then, her rugby career wasn’t quite linear.

“I actually quit playing in 2018, and started coaching the first-ever under-14 girls team at Thornhill,” she tells Love Rugby League. “Coaching takes up a lot of your time, especially with work.

“I managed to swap my work days around so I could coach on a Saturday and I really enjoyed it. Then the opportunity to play and compete at a good level came up with Huddersfield’s first trials and I thought if I got in, I’d carry on – and here we are now.”

Oates has certainly come a long way since that day in January 2018. She was part of the first ever Huddersfield Giants team to play a game and ahead of the 2024 season, is now arguably the integral heartbeat of the WSL side aiming to make great strides this season.

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There is no doubting the Giants, like so many others, are behind the heavyweight trio of Leeds, York and St Helens. But a revolutionary winter at Huddersfield, in which the women’s team have been over by the club itself, appointed full-time off-field staff and handed out professional contracts to players including Oates, has raised hope the gap can be bridged in time.

“I remember pre-season training in the early days, coming in and training everywhere – just finding a field and getting somewhere we could all get on a pitch together,” she says. “We would be training in the dark, having to find school facilities and just begging for anywhere to get on a pitch and train.

“I’ve been here quite a while, since the women’s game started in Huddersfield, and you can just see the pathway that the women’s game has at this club and in the sport altogether.

“We just want to perform and have good facilities and opportunities to do that. I still work full-time in a leisure centre but what I’ve been doing for the last three years is the same as what I’m doing now, just I’m getting a bit of money for it. But for girls who are a bit younger and don’t have full-time jobs, they’ve got the chance to work on their performance and do extra training.”

Bethan Oates determined to create a legacy at Huddersfield Giants

Oates’ rise in the women’s game saw her selected for the England Performance Squad in 2022, though she just missed the cut for the World Cup in the same year.

But at a time when more and more women are beginning to receive match payments, Oates is more interested in leaving a far greater legacy in the West Yorkshire town.

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“The top clubs have got the best players, but they set a platform for the rest and that’s what Huddersfield need to do,” she says. “Being taken over by the club, paying players is going to give people that opportunity to say they want to play for Huddersfield. We need more players to say they want to play for other clubs, and I hope Huddersfield can be a part of that now.

“For me, I wasn’t ever interested in playing anywhere else. I’ve started here, I’ve been through the pathway and seen how much it’s changed, and I want to finish here.

“To be able to see the pathway and the young girls coming through – there’s girls ten years younger than me! – that’s a big motivation. If we can set that platform, that’s brilliant.

“I don’t play to be at the best already, I want to earn that ability to get there, and I want that to be here at Huddersfield.”

Planet Sport are proud sponsors of Huddersfield Giants’ Women’s Super League side for the 2024 season.

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