At 21, Caitlin Beevers has already played in a World Cup, but the prospect of a Wembley trip makes her prouder than ever to be involved in the game.
When she was still 16, the Leeds Rhinos star helped her childhood club to a Challenge Cup final victory. In the same year, two weeks after turning 17, Beevers then made her international debut against France back in 2018.
Lifting the Challenge Cup oncemore in 2019 with a victory over Castleford Tigers in a repeat of the final from the year prior, the versatile back would go on to scoop the player of the match award for a two-try haul in the Rhinos’ 2022 Grand Final victory, earning plaudits aplenty.
And most recently, back on the international front, the youngster shone with two tries for the Lionesses at the World Cup. The first of those came just two minutes into the tournament as the Lionesses hammered Brazil.
There’s no doubt that every one of those achievements would’ve brought a great deal of pride to the Yorkshire native, but she now bursts with pride at the opportunity of stepping out at Wembley.
Caitlin Beevers: ‘If you see it, you can believe it’
This year, for the first time ever, the Women’s Challenge Cup final will be played at ‘the home of football’. It will form part of a quadruple-header on the day alongside those of the Champion Schools, 1895 Cup and Men’s Challenge Cup.
For Beevers, this is the perfect next step in developing the women’s game. It’s one she never thought possible however.
Speaking to The Sportsman’s ‘The Last Tackle’ show on YouTube, she said: “It would rank pretty high [on my list of achievements]. It’s not something I’d have expected to achieve in my playing career. When I first saw it being advertised, my stomach dropped.
“For a girl that’s been brought up playing and watching rugby, you always see the Challenge Cup finals being played at Wembley, and it’s not something that you think is available for the women.
“With participation rates growing after the World Cup, we say ‘if you see it, you can be it’ a lot. We need to put these games on bigger platforms, streamed with the best coverage so these little girls can see where they want to be.
“The game’s getting to the point now where the competition is narrowing, it’s not big walkovers in games like it was at the start of the Women’s Super League.
“Fortunately, the game’s getting bigger, the competition’s getting bigger, and the club’s are putting more backing into teams. That’s what the game needs to grow.”
Home comforts not key to success in Beevers’ opinion
Born in Dewsbury, Beevers was a Champion Schools National winner in both 2016 and 2017, kicking off the theme of player of the match awards in finals with a four-try haul in the 2016 victory, and earning the same again the year after having crossed for five tries.
Playing at local outfit Birstall Victoria ARLFC from the age of 7, the back would later play for Dewsbury Moor, who lost the Women’s Rugby League Association Challenge Cup Final to Wigan St Patricks in 2018. Despite that defeat, Beevers was again player of the match.
She was recruited by Leeds for their academy that year, and was soon promoted up to the senior setup in the club that she’s always supported. The Rhinos Women now play their home league games at Headingley, and it’s there where they’ll face Wigan Warriors on Sunday for a spot at Wembley.
She said: “We’ve got to settle ourselves, we’ve got a tough opposition ahead in Wigan and we’re not too unfamiliar with what they have to offer. We know we’ve got a big job ahead of us and then we can start looking at the bigger picture.
“For a Leeds girl growing up and this being my club’s ground, it’s absolutely massive, but I don’t think we can rely on familiarities too much.
“At the end of the day, we are the away side so we’re going to be in a different changing room, and it’s only this season that we’ve started playing all of our league games here, so we’re still finding our feet at this stadium. I don’t think it gives us too much of an advantage, but personally for me it’s just the cherry on the top to being able to play in a semi-final.”
Leeds Rhinos take on familiar faces
At present, two-time Challenge Cup winners Leeds are further on in their progression with their women’s team than Wigan. The Cherry and Whites are in the midst of a re-build, blooding a high number of academy products.
The two sides aren’t poles apart on the Women’s Super League – Group 1 table, but when they met on July 9, Leeds ran out 52-0 winners at Robin Park Arena.
Beevers feels the Warriors were unfortunate to end up with such a heavy scoreline, adding: “I don’t think the scoreline the other week massively reflected the game. They are a really strong competitive side, and what comes with the badge is broadly across the club.
“They have a lot of desire and a lot of passion to succeed, so we’re not becoming complacent. We’ve got a lot of wrongs to right from that game, and I’m sure they do too.
“They’re really building a name for themselves and I think they’re pretty close to beating one of the top teams.”
The Rhinos and Warriors meet at Headingley with a 2.15pm kick-off on Sunday. It’s live on BBC iPlayer, and is a pre-cursor to the men’s Challenge Cup semi-final which sees Hull KR face Wigan (5pm KO).