Sinead Peach relishing ‘exciting’ new era for women’s game after World Cup blow

World Cup heartache weighed heavy on Sinead Peach at the end of last year but the York Valkyrie star has quickly switched her focus to being at the front and centre of a bold new era for women’s rugby league.

Peach, one of five nominees for last season’s Woman of Steel award, was a shock omission from Craig Richards’ England squad for the World Cup and admitted she initially found it difficult to watch her team-mates from the sidelines.

But the 24-year-old has plenty of reasons to feel rejuvenated ahead of next month’s Betfred Women’s Super League kick-off, which for the first time will see players at two clubs – Leeds Rhinos and Peach’s rebranded Valkyrie – paid on a performance-related basis.

Sinead Peach has praised the impact of International Women’s Day (Danny Lawson/PA)
Sinead Peach has praised the impact of International Women’s Day (Danny Lawson/PA)

Such significant strides, which have also seen a crop of top domestic players enter talks over potential moves to Australia’s full-time Women’s NRL, have only served to emphasise the importance of International Women’s Day to Peach, who could not fathom such opportunities when she first got involved in the sport at the Hunslet amateur clubs in south Leeds.

“When I started playing my club had no girls’ team so at the age of 11 I had to form one myself,” Peach told the PA news agency.

“We would go to tournaments to have to join up with other teams just to get enough numbers. We had plenty of support but there were very few opportunities for girls, so to go from there to where the women’s game is today is unbelievable.

Sinead Peach controversially missed out on a place in last year’s World Cup (Danny Lawson/PA)
Sinead Peach controversially missed out on a place in last year’s World Cup (Danny Lawson/PA)

“You come to clubs like York and Leeds and you see hundreds of girls out there training. Women’s rugby is progressing day by day and season by season. That’s why it’s so important to have a day like International Women’s Day, which we can use to give the game even more exposure.”

The new season kicks off on Easter Sunday when York travel to Leeds in a repeat of last season’s Grand Final, in a game set to be staged – as with almost all Rhinos’ fixtures in 2023 – as the first part of a double-header with a men’s home game.

And while the relatively modest payments will not unduly change the logistical issues faced by the sport’s part-time players, the York captain Peach believes they represent a crucial shift in the perception of the women’s game, and of the direction she hopes it is heading.

“I work in car sales from nine until half past four every day then I travel straight from work to training,” explained Peach. “It’s hard to juggle but you do it. There are mums in the squad and I don’t even understand how they manage.

“Now that we’re getting paid it helps a bit with some of the travel costs and our work to become better athletes, but it doesn’t change our mindset or anything. The difference is that now we have a point to prove and we know we can’t disappoint.”

The hooker is eager to resurrect her international career under Richards’ replacement Stu Barrow, the first full-time incumbent of the England role, and to remain at the vanguard of the changes that she hopes will give future generations of girls the opportunity to carve careers from the sport.

York City Knights v Leeds Rhinos – Betfred Women’s Super League Grand Final – Totally Wicked Stadium
Sinead Peach’s York Valkyrie are set to resume their rivalry with Leeds Rhinos (Ian Hodgson/PA)

“I took a break from the national team after the tour to Papua New Guinea in 2019 and being away just made me realise how much I did love playing rugby for my country,” added Peach.

“I think I did enough to prove I should I have been in the (World Cup) squad, so obviously it was hard to take. Playing at a home World Cup is any girl’s dream. But I cheered on my mates in the matches at York, and realised all I could do was put my boots back on and try for the next one.

“Hopefully I’ll get a chance against France at the end of April. I have spoken to Stu and he’s said he wants me back involved. I have no problems at all and I’m back really enjoying it.

“These are such exciting times for our sport and I want to be a part of it. For any girl just starting now, seeing how players are starting to get paid and the game is being promoted, the world is their oyster.

“I go down to Hunslet Warriors now and there are these girls playing and I think back to how it started and have to pinch myself, knowing some of the girls I’m watching could potentially go all the way.”