Meet Beri Salihi: The St Helens young gun hoping to follow in Jodie Cunningham’s footsteps

Drew Darbyshire
Beri Salihi Jodie Cunningham St Helens Alamy

Beri Salihi (right) and Jodie Cunningham (left) of St Helens

Meet Beri Salihi: St Helens’ young gun full-back who is hoping to follow in the footsteps of England captain and former Woman of Steel, Jodie Cunningham.

The 18-year-old, who is still studying at college, will don the No. 1 jersey for her hometown club in 2024 after making the move from rivals Wigan Warriors in the off-season.

Despite not yet having made her debut, Salihi is highly thought of at St Helens, hence why she has been earmarked by head coach Matty Smith to become the club’s frontline full-back.

Salihi was just seven years old when her idol Cunningham was making her England debut back in 2023, and, during a humble interview with Love Rugby League, she made no secret that Cunningham – now her team-mate – was someone she looked up to growing up.

It’s one of the main reasons why she joined Saints: to learn from current England internationals Cunningham, Emily Rudge, Tara Jones and Leah Burke, who have been at the top of the game for several years.

“There’s a lot of England players at Saints and my main goal is to get to England,” Salihi told Love Rugby League at St Helens’ media event on Wednesday, the club announcing that their women’s players would receive match payments from 2024 onwards.

“I think it’s good to be around those role models like Jodie, Emily, Tara, Leah.. I think it’s really going to push me.

“I think Jodie and Tara were the main people that I looked up to. Obviously Jodie used to play full-back and obviously that’s a big thing when you go into Saints, Jodie is someone I looked up to and still can look up to, having her help me learn and take that role on as a full-back.”

Jodie Cunningham hails introduction of match payments following meteoric rise in the women’s game

Jodie Cunningham St Helens
Jodie Cunningham signs on the dotted line with St Helens

St Helens became the third club to confirm they would be introducing payments on Wednesday, with the former Women’s Super League champions joining Leeds Rhinos and York Valkyrie to introduce match payments for their players.

England and Saints captain Cunningham is a long-standing advocate of the women’s game, and she’s immensely proud to see the WSL go from strength to strength.

Speaking to Love Rugby League, 32-year-old Cunningham said: “You look at the likes of Beri, Lucie Sams is another young girl in our team.. Lucie came in as a young kid, super talented, she was 17 at the time and her first games were live on Sky Sports, a semi-final on the BBC, then live on the BBC at Wembley – they were like three of her first four games and the other one was a home game at the Totally Wicked Stadium and I was like ‘how mental is that?’ because to her that’s normal..

“Obviously I wish I was 18 now because you just think ‘wow’, imagine what they are going to get in 10 years time, that’s incredible. But at the same time, I’m glad that I am the age I am and have experienced what I have because I just think I’m so grateful for the things that have happened..

“I just pinch myself. How lucky am I that I am still playing now? How lucky am I that I’m at this club? How lucky that my body has held up enough that I can still be playing? There’s loads of girls, particularly the ones that are just that bit older than me and Rudgey.. When we got into the England squad when we were young and there were 20-odd year olds, and they were brilliant players and gave everything to the sport, but they just missed out on this. They were five, six, seven years too early. So for me, days like today, I’m glad and grateful to be a part of this. I’m dead proud that I can be part of it and I’m always proud of where the girls will take it after we’ve stopped.”

Beri Salihi proud to pull on the St Helens jersey: ‘My whole family are Saints fans’

Beri Salihi St Helens
Beri Salihi (right) signs her first paid contract with St Helens

Salihi is currently studying sport and human biology at Carmel College in St Helens, and hopes to go to university next year to take a degree in Sports and Exercise Science.

The promising full-back has hopes of playing for England one day, having recently been called up to the England Knights squad.

But her priority, for now, is St Helens – and she can’t wait to pull on the Red V jersey in front of her Saints-adoring family.

“My whole family are Saints fans,” she told Love Rugby League. “My great grandad used to take my dad to Knowsley Road.. All of my family are St Helens fans.

“I’ve just got into the England Knights squad so I’m hoping to get into the England squad in the future and hopefully go to Wembley.”

It’s fair to say Salihi has a lengthy sporting background, having started athletics when she was just a kid. She also played football as a junior but she found her genuine passion when she picked up a rugby ball for the first time.

“I used to do athletics and I just started getting bored of that when I was about 12,” she said. “My mum was like ‘why don’t you try rugby?’ and my dad was like ‘no way!’.

“I was playing rugby league and rugby union at the time and I went to Thatto Heath and played there for a few years. I liked football but as soon as I started playing rugby I knew that was the sport I wanted to play, it just felt different. I was at Thatto Heath for a few years and then I moved to Leigh Miners, and then after that I went to Wigan’s academy and now I’m here.”

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