Katy Daley-McLean reckons fans flocking back to roar on Sale Sharks Women is the perfect way for rugby union to make a post-lockdown north-west splash, writes Will Jennings.
World Cup winner Daley-McLean, 35, is entering the twilight of a storied career and was recently appointed women’s performance lead after her role as player-coach.
But the 116-cap Red Roses international isn’t ruling out still donning Sale’s No.10 jersey, with Darren Lamon’s side determined to build on last season’s ninth-place finish in the Allianz Premier 15s.
Rugby league dominates the agenda in the north-west region but Daley-McLean hopes supporters returning to Heywood Road – the home of Sale Women – for Saturday’s season opener against Worcester Warriors can help union capture the imagination.
Daley-McLean, whose team were only founded last year, said: “As a new club, we want to create more awareness of Sale Sharks women in the north-west.
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The wait is over #SharksFamily!! 🙌
Here is our first @Premier15s team announcement for 2️⃣1️⃣-2️⃣2️⃣👇
We are 𝘚𝘖 𝘌𝘟𝘊𝘐𝘛𝘌𝘋 to kick off our season against @WorcsWarriorsW tomorrow! #SALvWOR | #SharkTime pic.twitter.com/qsJZCaXIlg
— Sale Sharks Women (@SaleSharksWomen) September 3, 2021
“It’s a traditional rugby league environment, so it’s about actually getting a rugby union side in there.
“I think for us, getting the brand and the women’s team out there is going to be the next step for us in terms of our future and how we grow the game.
“We had a friendly two weeks ago and just to have fans back, you forget how much you’ve missed it to have friends and family there.
“The noise and the vibe you get from supporters is just amazing.
“We missed so much of that last year, especially as a new team, and it’s really, really important to help us build that fan base.”
Sale welcome Worcester to Heywood Road on Saturday lunchtime, who finished two places – and nine points – above them in last season’s Allianz Premier 15s table.
The league is the elite women’s domestic rugby union competition in England and having been won by high-flying Harlequins last season, continues to grow year on year.
The Premier 15s will once again be played over 18 rounds, culminating with play-offs (21 May 2022) and a title final (4 June 2022, venue TBC).
With no promotion or relegation, there are no changes to the 10 teams within England’s top-flight of women’s domestic rugby, operating in a league format with home and away fixtures.
Daley-McLean is relishing the prospect doing battle with Warriors and says an opening day victory can be a springboard for a brighter season ahead.
The fly-half, whose side won just four of 18 matches last term, added: “To have everyone together for a more traditional pre-season for a good block of time is brilliant.
"Honestly, I just want us to be better than we were last year. We’ve recruited well and the girls who have stayed in the squad really have had a good pre-season – they’ve been hitting PBs and they just look a fitter, stronger squad.
“I think Worcester’s a great first game for us. You know ourselves, and Worcester went toe-to-toe last year so I think for us, it’s about making sure that we switch on.”
The Allianz Premier 15s is the top-flight women’s domestic rugby union competition in England. For all the latest news from the Allianz Premier 15s, you can follow @Premier15s on Twitter and Instagram. You can also watch live action on Premier15s.com throughout the 2021/22 campaign.