Wakefield up for the challenge of Women’s Super League’s growing pains

Wakefield Ladies
Photo: Wakefield Trinity

Wakefield Ladies have had a difficult start to life in the Women’s Super League – but they are determined to overcome the challenges and make it work.

They became the eighth member of the competition in 2019 and managed one win from their 14 games.

With some strong recruitment, 2020 promised much better until the coronavirus pandemic saw the entire season written off.

But 2021 has proved an extremely tough year – with Trinity losing all 11 of the games they played, and only managing to score a solitary try across their four games in the Shield.

The league split in to two following a COVID-hit regular season, with the top five and bottom five teams then playing each other in a mini-league.

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This structure was devised to help deal with the growing pains that women’s rugby league is suffering. Finding the right balance between supporting the improvement of its elite team and players, as well as maximising participation and competition.

People look at the one sided scores – Wakefield shipped 70 against both Huddersfield and Warrington – and question if it’s good for the game.

From the inside

“We haven’t been great,” admits James Stephenson, the Wakefield community manager that leads the women’s side.

“There are a thousand different factors, influences and pressures, and we’ve faced some real challenges.

“But the club, CEO and the chairman back us fully.

“We’ve got the plans in place to create the right environment, portray ourselves the right way and build a strong ethos.

“A lot of the players could have walked away. It’s not enjoyable losing every week, but they’ve stuck by it and they’ll benefit from that.”

Despite the pandemic, women’s rugby league participation numbers have grown by 70% in the past 18 months.

The delayed World Cup is also on the horizon, and England will enter the competition with genuine hopes of winning it.

Wakefield Ladies moving forward

For Wakefield, it is all about providing that pathway for girls to aspire to play for the national team.

Stephenson added: “We’re doing well in terms of retaining and recruitment for next season. We’re talking to new players who will add real value.

“Will we be able to bring in England players? Probably not, but can we produce the next England player? Maybe.

“We’ve chosen to invest in our girls’ programme. Hopefully all clubs in the future can invest. There are only so many elite level players who can compete week in, week out, so that’s what we’re there for.

“It was growing nicely until the pandemic, but there’s nothing we can do about that.

“We want to compete with every team. Our best performances this year came against the top teams.

“Some players want instant success, glitz and glamour. That’s fine.

“But we’ll be honest and tell every player what our plans are, what we can and can’t offer along with what our development plans are and it’s their decision & up to them if they want to be part of our journey.”

Wakefield’s struggles have caused some to question their future in the Women’s Super League, with at least two clubs sounded out about making the step up.

“It’s 100% not true – we haven’t asked to leave Super League. We’re not sure yet what the structure will be. But we’re in a good place and looking forward to improving and righting some wrongs next season.

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