England captain and former Woman of Steel Jodie Cunningham has been appointed to a new role with St Helens as she continues her playing career in the Red V.
The 32-year-old has become the Super League club’s head of women’s pathways and performance.
Cunningham has been with the Saints since their women’s team was established in 2018, playing for St Helens-based community club Thatto Heath Crusaders before that.
The Warrington-born forward has been a key figure in the meteoric rise of the women’s game in the northern hemisphere, being named co-captain of Saints in 2019 before becoming sole captain in 2021, the year when they completed the treble with the Challenge Cup, League Leaders’ Shield and Super League trophies.
Cunningham, who was named Woman of Steel in 2021, has guided her side to three straight Challenge Cups, the last of which saw them become the first women’s rugby league team to win at Wembley Stadium.
She has been working with the Rugby Football League over the last three years as the national women’s and girls’ development manager, helping strengthen pathways for player development of all ages.
Trailblazer Jodie Cunningham ‘excited’ to start her new role with St Helens
Love Rugby League exclusively revealed back in November that Cunningham was subject to interest from rivals Wigan Warriors – but that the England skipper had instead pledged her commitment to Saints.
Cunningham will continue her playing career alongside her new role, working closely with St Helens head coach Matty Smith.
She said: “It’s an exciting new role, I think it just shows the growth of the women’s game but also how seriously St Helens as a club are taking the women’s game.
“To have somebody designated to look at the operations and the pathways specifically for the women and just pull everything together and make sure they’re fully integrated into the club and the performance department as well. It’s an exciting position and hopefully I can do it justice.
“Hopefully being around the club more will give me a little bit more of a balance and being able to have access to Matty and help bring everyone along.
“I think this will help me personally be the best that I can be, by being around this environment on a regular basis.
“Specifically leading on the women and girls game in this role hopefully, I can bring all my experience, all the development that I’ve done there to a more local level in St Helens and help grow the number of girls playing in St Helens.
“Working with the community teams to make sure that pathways are all in place so that we have the best young talent coming through and feeding into this women’s side so we we’re lifting trophies in the near future but also for many years to come as well.”
St Helens chief shares praise for ‘true trailblazer’ who is ‘one of the finest ambassadors for the entire sport’
On Cunningham’s appointment as head of women’s pathways and performance, Saints chief executive Mike Rush said: “The growth of the women’s game is fantastic and has probably been faster than most could have expected, but not for Jodie who is a true trailblazer and one of our finest ambassadors for the entire sport of rugby league.
“Jodie’s role looks at the players who are here and now, but with a firm eye on the future and how we will be bringing through even more players to develop here at Saints, to become their best at Saints.
“We want all our teams to succeed at the club and we keep aiming to develop our women’s team to be the very best it can be.”