The wait is almost over for Wigan captain Rachel Thompson – as the Women’s Super League finally gets underway this weekend.
After the entire 2020 season was wiped out due to COVID, it has been 18 months since the last elite women’s game was played in the UK.
With new teams Warrington and Huddersfield taking Super League up to 10, and the first 10 rounds to be played at either Leeds or Warrington, it promises to be an exciting return for the women’s game.
For Thompson, it finally gives her the chance to lead out the Warriors as captain following her appointment last year.
“We’re all just excited to get back to it. It’s been a long time coming. There’s been a lot of waiting and although we’ve been in and out of training, now there’s been something to look forward to.
“It’s the longest I’ve gone without playing rugby since I was about eight years old.”
Thompson, 26, was the club’s first ever signing ahead of the inaugural season in 2018 and scored a hat-trick as they won Super League in that very first year.
Got called a hat-trick hero from @seanol13. A hand shake for scoring 3 tries off @johnbateman1 and picture taken with Andy Farrell.
Find this massive looney Wigan fan girl a better day in her life 🍒⚪️ pic.twitter.com/22i0K80deB
— Rachel Thompson (@rachelthompson6) October 14, 2018
And it enabled her to fulfil a childhood dream of playing for her beloved Wigan that probably seemed impossible at the time.
“I was playing at Thatto Heath before women’s Super League started. I’d been a Wigan fan since I was five, and Thatto Heath was going to become St Helens, I didn’t really think anything of it.
“Wigan approached me and then I thought ‘I don’t think I could wear a St Helens shirt!’
“I took a massive leap of faith, I’d played at Thatto for four years, and being a Wigan fan I never thought it would happen.
“I’m definitely glad that I did. It’s almost a dream come true to play for your hometown team and the team you’ve grown up supporting, it’s a bit surreal sometimes.”
Thompson works for the Warriors in the Community, helping with coaching, mainly in girls rugby league, which continues to progress.
She started playing at Westhoughton Lions as a junior and won two caps for England, going on their groundbreaking tour of Papua New Guinea in 2019.
At both ends of the spectrum, she’s more qualified than most to assess the development of the women’s game.
“It’s making massive progress. I like to think I’m not that old, but from when I started we had to throw about 10 teams together to make one team, whereas you look now and there are so many girls just in Wigan that teams have got established girls teams.
“They don’t realise how lucky they are to have that, and it’s massive for the girls game right up to the Women’s Super League.”
Steps continue to make the women’s game as professional as it can be, even if it’s not quite reached the stage where the players can be paid for their efforts.
One major step forward this year will be players having their names on the back of their shirts across the league, to enforce that professional image and provide inspiration for the future.
For Thompson, seeing her name on the back of that Wigan jersey won’t be new though – as the Warriors had already made that commitment.
“We’ve been fortunate that whenever I’ve played at Wigan, we’ve always had our name on the shirt.
— Rachel Thompson (@rachelthompson6) March 17, 2021
“When we got our kit, the club did that as recognition to show you deserve the name on the back.
“Of course, you’re playing for the name on the front of the shirt, but it does make it a little bit more special. On the pitch, on a picture and at end of the season, it’s your shirt. No one can take it off you. You play in the same shirt week in week out. There’s none of this get whatever number you’re playing in.
“It’s all going in the right direction. The way the women’s game has come on and the way it’s perceived in and around the clubs, it was never a thing before.
“While we are still ‘amateurs’ in that we don’t get paid, we get all of our kit, training, sponsors, we get to use the facilities at Robin Park, all this stuff we didn’t get in the amateur game, so if it keeps going in that direction it won’t be long until the league can go semi-professional.”
Wigan open the Super League season against debutants Warrington at Victoria Park on Sunday (April 18).