‘You never know the last time you’ll pull on an England shirt’ – New skipper wants to make the most of French test

Drew Darbyshire
Jodie Cunningham England PA

Photo: Imago/Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com/Imago/PA Images

Former Woman of Steel Jodie Cunningham may have just been appointed as England’s new captain, but she’s not taking anything for granted.

The St Helens star has taken over the captaincy role from her St Helens team-mate and good pal Emily Rudge, who had the armband for five years between 2017 and 2022.

Cunningham will lead her country for the first time in Saturday’s test match against France in her hometown of Warrington.

Asked by Love Rugby League if anything has changed for her since becoming captain, Cunningham replied: “The advice I’ve gotten from a few people is  ‘don’t change what you do, you’ve been picked for a reason’.

“You just ask yourself the question of ‘what do I need to do now? How do I need to behave? What do the girls need to me to do?’ but all I can do is what I’ve always done.

“It is the ultimate honour to pull on an England shirt and no-one should take that for granted.

“You never know when it will be the last time pulling on an England shirt for whatever reason, so what I always try to do is go out there and make myself, my team-mates and my coaches proud. Hopefully that helps the rest of the team.

“I just always try to go on the field and have the confidence that I won’t be outworked. Just work as hard as you can and you can’t go far wrong. That’ll be my tactic this weekend, just to work really hard and set a platform for the team.”

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All roads lead to France

The 31-year-old is a stalwart in the England camp now, having won 28 caps for her country since making her international debut in 2009.

Cunningham is determined to play in what will be her fourth World Cup in France 2025 after suffering heartache in last year’s tournament, where the Lionesses fell short to New Zealand in the semi-finals.

“That’s the plan,” she said when asked about playing in the next World Cup.

“I wasn’t sure how I’d feel after the last World Cup and the emotions were tough to take on the back of it, but I just knew that I had so much unfinished business that there was no way I could call it a day. Hopefully it is fourth time lucky for me in a World Cup in 2025.

“I just think this England squad is so strong, I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m going to have to fight tooth and nail to be in it, but I absolutely want to and I still feel like I’ve got something to offer England. Fingers crossed I can make it to 2025 and that we can go one better.”

Jodie Cunningham: England’s Ms Utility

Cunningham’s versatility has been invaluable for England over the years, playing in every position apart from prop and back-row.

Her utility value used to frustrate her earlier in her career but as she’s matured, she’s realised that it’s a useful weapon in her arsenal.

She added: “I’m not comparing myself to Jack Welsby because he’s outstanding, but I do watch Jack and think it’s very similar to how I’ve progressed through the England squad.

“I’ve played full-back, wing, centre, half-back, hooker and now I’m 13”

“I’ve managed to get myself in the pack so the only positions I’ve not played for England are second-row and prop. I mean there’s time yet, I’ve got a few years left in me!

“At first it used to frustrate me because everybody wants to be one of the first names on the team-sheet and you’d rather be picked for the first reason rather than ‘Jodie can fill that spot if we need to’ but equally, I’ve always been grateful that it’s got me in to a few squads.

“Early on in my career when I definitely wasn’t first choice by any stretch in any of the positions, it always got me in the 20 because I could cover quite a few, which ultimately then got me my opportunity.

‘So ultimately, I’m grateful for my versatility that I’ve had over the years but now I’m at that point where I want to be out on that field in a starting position and hopefully try to narrow down that role and do it justice.

“Hopefully I’ve got there to an extent at 13, but if there were injuries or a spot that needed filling, then I’ll always put my hand up to do it.”

England face France in the international double-header in Warrington on Saturday. The women’s test gets underway at 2pm, followed by the men’s at 4:30pm, both live on Sky Sports.

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