Wigan Warriors women prepare to make history as hometown girl previews ’emotional’ double-header

Ben Olawumi
Rachel Thompson Wigan Warriors Alamy

Rachel Thompson in action for Wigan Warriors

History will be made this evening as Wigan’s women’s team take to the field at the DW Stadium for the first time. Rachel Thompson eats, sleeps and breathes all things Warriors, and for her, this is a lifelong dream.

The Warriors‘ women open their Super League season up against newly-promoted Barrow Raiders (5.30pm KO) prior to Matt Peet’s men’s Round 8 clash with Castleford Tigers (8pm KO).

Thompson was the very first player to sign for Wigan when their women’s team was founded ahead of the 2018 season, winning the Super League Grand Final at the first attempt with a hat-trick in the final against Leeds Rhinos.

2023 saw her return to the field for the first time in over a year having missed the entirety of the 2022 season following serious injuries to her ACL, MCL and LCL.

But throughout that journey back to the pitch, she was never away from Robin Park Arena and her team-mates – Wigan through and through.

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Wigan Warriors women prepare to make history as hometown girl Rachel Thompson previews ’emotional’ double-header

The 29-year-old – a previous captain of the side – works for the club as well as playing, and has been one of the driving factors in the women’s side getting their first chance to play at the DW.

Describing her role, she said: “In my general day-to-day job, I do the rugby operations side of the women and girls sections.

Women's Super League trophy
The Betfred Women’s Super League trophy

“I’m just making sure that everything is in place so that when we are training or playing, everything runs nice and smoothly.

“It is a job, but when you are so passionate about it, sometimes it doesn’t feel like one although I do get stressed out sometimes!

“It’s a great environment to be around… I don’t have to go home, I get to just stay here (Robin Park) and then go to training.

“Some days I get in the building at 7am and I don’t go home until half 9 at night, but when you’re doing something that you love, it’s not really a job.”

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‘We want young girls to be able to see something they can aspire to do’

A handful of Thompson’s Warriors team-mates have actually played at the DW before – donning a shirt for England on home soil in the delayed 2021 Rugby League World Cup as they comfortably saw off Canada in a group stage game.

For the vast majority, including the Cherry & Whites’ number 14, this evening’s clash at Barrow will be a first with history in the making for the club.

The loose forward explained how much of a dream this is for her and detailed the impact she hopes landmark events like this can have, adding: “It’s something that as a small child, you couldn’t dream of it because you couldn’t see it, so it was never something that was out there.

Georgia Wilson try
Georgia Wilson, then of Wigan Warriors, scores a try for England against Canada at the DW Stadium during the delayed 2021 Rugby League World Cup

“People have probably asked me a million times now, ‘how is it going to feel?’, and my honest answer is I don’t know.

“It’s not something I could even think about it, but it’ll be emotional and it’ll be something the girls are all looking forward to.

“It is just like any other game, but it is extra special. (Women’s rugby league), it’s starting to get the recognition it’s probably always deserved… it’s getting out there more now and I think the World Cup had a massive impact on that because people could see it.

“If people can see it, then they can see what a great game it is, so getting more games on Sky and the BBC is all part of that.

“The club do a really good job at getting behind us, getting bigger crowds and getting more sponsors, and that’s what it’s all about.

“It’s getting there, it’s come a long way and I’m sure it’s still got a lot way to go. We want young girls to be able to see something they can aspire to do, and hopefully years down the line they’ll be getting to play every week at the DW Stadium, that’s the bigger picture.”

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Warriors women boss Denis Betts: ‘I want the girls to thrive and get better within the environment we can set’

Thompson was born just as Wigan saw club legend Denis Betts, a hugely influential figure during their successful period of the late 80s & early 90s, depart for a move Down Under.

Betts joined the Auckland Warriors in 1995, captaining England in the World Cup final against Australia at Wembley later that same year. He would return and finish off his career in Cherry & White, also going on to coach the Warriors men on an interim basis in 2004.

Denis Betts Wigan Warriors Alamy
Wigan Warriors women’s head coach Denis Betts

But some 29 years on from that initial move Down Under, Betts is now back at the club having taken charge of the women’s side in the off-season just gone.

He said: “It’s been a breath of fresh air, I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve been coaching now longer than I was playing!

“I think it’s nearly 22 years of coaching… I’ve been coaching at Widnes (Vikings) and up at Newcastle (Thunder) and looking at trying to build different environments, but the girls are understanding.

“They are great and want to get better, which is what every coach wants and their thirst for knowledge has been great. As we understand each other a bit more, the questions are flying thick and fast.

“They want to know more and get better, so as a coach, that’s what I want. I want the girls to thrive and get better within the environment we can set.

“It’s not about me, it’s about the environment and they want to get better which is exciting for me at this moment in time, every girl wants to get better and learn.”

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