The Women’s Super League has enjoyed a stunning rise since it was launched in 2017, and Jodie Cunningham insists the growth will only continue.
Last year, the Rugby Football League announced that there had been a 214 per cent growth in the number of girls teams since the governing body embarked on their current strategy in 2017.
Meanwhile in the Women’s Super League, Leeds and York have become the first British teams to make match payments to their players this season.
And the Women’s Challenge Cup final will be played alongside the Men’s final at Wembley for the first time this year, something England and St Helens skipper Cunningham thought she would only ever be able to dream of.
Speaking to Love Rugby League, she said: “I thought you’d have been taking something if you told me what this would be like now… It is a million miles away from what it was in 2017.
“It’s hard because sometimes you start to take for granted some of the brilliant things. Year on year it does get better.
“The final is at Wembley this year, that for me is the ultimate thing we’ve got”
“I never thought in my playing career we’d see that, so I can’t think of anything else other than getting to that Wembley final!
“It’s things like that were some of the young girls now talk about things and I’m like ‘you don’t know what it used to be like, you don’t know where we used to play!’.
“It will only keep getting better and that’s the way it needs to go, but it has got to happen sustainably and for the right reasons.
“It has got to be really authentic and that the clubs back it and really believe in it which is what’s happening now.
“You can see with just the level of investment of the clubs and how completely ingrained in the team the CEOs are. They are so interested in what’s going on in the women’s game and they see the importance in the long-term progress of each club.
“But also I think the sport of rugby league, the men’s game is brilliant, but I think the whole package of men’s, women’s and disability sport is even stronger.”
Jodie Cunningham on ‘one of the best feelings ever’
Cunningham recalled the first time she saw a little girl in the stands with ‘Cunningham’ printed on the back of her shirt in a heartwarming moment.
She said: “Honestly, that is one of the best feelings ever.
“Obviously representing your country and signing the national anthem are obvious tangible things but when I first saw Cunningham on the back of someone’s shirt that I didn’t have a connection with like a family member… I was like ‘wow, somebody cares enough that they’ve gone and got my name on a shirt’ – it was just mind blowing, it was really special.
“Parents and young girls often ask for pictures and ask you to sign things or send messages and they are really grateful when you respond, but they don’t realise how grateful I am that they care enough and are invested enough and that they come and watch us play… That means the world to us. I don’t think they quite realise the value they give to us.
“That’s the responsibility we now have as role models that young girls do look up to us, so hopefully we can do them proud too that we lay the platform. They’ll be the professional players of the future, they will be lifting World Cup trophies, I’ve got no doubt about that, so it is a really exciting time for us all.”