England captain Jodie Cunningham is backing her international team-mates to take the NRLW by storm, and says their moves are a shot in the arm for the British game.
Earlier this month, York star Hollie-Mae Dodd became the first English player to sign to play in the largely professional NRLW competition in Australia after penning a contract with Canberra Raiders.
And just days later, it was confirmed by Leeds that former Woman of Steel Georgia Roche was also heading Down Under, and she is expected to join Newcastle Knights, although that hasn’t been officially announced by the NRLW club.
St Helens stalwart Cunningham, who has recently been appointed as England’s new captain, believes English players being snapped up by the NRLW is a compliment to the progression of the Women’s Super League.
“I think its brilliant and I’m 100 per cent behind them and can’t wait to watch them rip it up out there,” Cunningham said.
“They are representing themselves but they are representing women’s rugby league in England. I think they’ll absolutely be standout players in the women’s NRL.
“All the players back here will be supporting them all the way and I think it will only develop them further.
“What a great opportunity they’ve got and it shows how far the women’s game has come that we’re talking about contracts and players in this way, so I’m sure there’ll be lots of more opportunities over the next few years but I know Hollie and Georgia are going to absolutely kill it.”
What the NRLW can offer that Women’s Super League can’t
Dodd and Roche will be getting paid during their time in Australia – and they will be playing in more competitive games on a regular basis, which will be key to their progression.
“I think what we want is really competitive fixtures on a regular basis,” Cunningham added.
“The Women’s Super League is progressing and its getting there. Last year we saw three different teams win a trophy so it was the most competitive season we’d ever had. That’s what we need more regularly, those players (Dodd and Roche) are probably going to get that more consistently out there.”
England honour for Jodie Cunningham
Cunningham has been part of the England set-up for many years, and she has recently been given the captaincy by England’s new coach Stuart Barrow.
The 31-year-old loose forward will lead her country against France in her hometown of Warrington on Saturday.
“It is a really proud moment for myself and for my family,” she told Love Rugby League.
“Just to be able to captain such a brilliant side, there are lots of experienced players who lead on a regular basis so it is going to make my job easier, but it is definitely a proud moment.
“I had a conversation with Stu and it probably took about a second for me to really answer the question. I took time like he said because it is a massive honour to take on. There is a responsibility as well that I want to do justice.
“I gave it a day and I was thinking ‘is that enough time now to give you an answer?’ so I was shocked but excited.”
Taking the armband from her pal
Cunningham is succeeding her St Helens team-mate Emily Rudge as skipper, but there was anything but animosity between the pair, who are good friends on and off the field.
“We had a conversation and we’ve been together through it all,” Cunningham said. “She got me playing rugby league so I’ve got a lot to thank her for.
“We’ve got the utmost respect for each other, we help each other lead together in a lot of ways. She’s my support mechanism and I’m hers in a lot of ways as well. She was 100 per cent behind me and wishes me all the best.
“She says the last five years have been the proudest of her career and she has done some incredible things, and she’s excited for me to be able to do something similar, so I think it is great that we’ve got each other.”
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.