England captain Emily Rudge says World Cup success this year should pave the way for a bright new professional era in domestic women’s rugby league.
The St Helens forward will lead a 24-player squad into the tournament that also includes 10 of her Saints team-mates plus a seven-strong contingent from Grand Final winners Leeds Rhinos.
All have had to balance preparations for the tournament with full-time jobs, putting them at a distinct disadvantage to clear favourites Australia, whose players compete in the fully-professional NRL women’s competition.
— England Rugby League (@England_RL) September 26, 2022
But Rudge, a PE teacher who has captained the national side since 2018, believes that could be a thing of the past if England can emulate football’s Lionesses and claim a major title on home soil.
“It’s really difficult – it’s like having two full-time jobs and there’s not enough hours in the day to do everything to the best of your ability,” said Rudge.
“It’s a massive challenge but hopefully it won’t be forever, and this will be the last World Cup where women are working full-time and still trying to be top international athletes.
“If we can win the World Cup, I think asking the women to go back to their full-time jobs would be difficult. We’ve got a massive part to play, and having success in this tournament will push things to change sooner than it’s possibly planned.”
A crowd of over 16,000 is anticipated for England’s opener against Brazil at Leeds on November 1, a mark that would set a new record for an England women’s rugby match in either code in this country.
England then take on Canada at Wigan on November 5 before completing their group stage against Papua New Guinea, who beat England in Port Moresby three years ago, on November 9.
The 2022 Woman of Steel Tara-Jane Stanley is one of four York City Knights players in the squad, whilst the solitary uncapped representative is Leeds’ Zoe Hornby.
Like Rudge, England head coach Craig Richards sees no reason why his side cannot upset the odds and overhaul the Australians, who blanked them 38-0 in their last meeting in Sydney in 2017.
“We are 100 per cent sure we can win it,” Richards insisted. “There are a couple of nations where we will need to be at our best and we need some things to go our way, but we are really confident.
“We are limited in how hard we can push them as what we can’t do is suddenly start training part-time athletes who are still working like full-time athletes.
“But we will do everything we possibly can to get them ready. I wouldn’t have done five years here, and the girls wouldn’t have worked as hard as they have, if we thought otherwise.”