Fran Goldthorp’s journey from six-year-old super-fan to playing a starring role in England women’s Rugby League World Cup campaign will continue on Tuesday when she steps out in front of an expected crowd of over 16,000 at her beloved Headingley.
Steeped in generations of the city’s sporting success, with her grandfather, father and brother all having played cricket for Yorkshire, the 19-year-old Leeds Rhinos centre will write her own chapter when the tournament hosts face Brazil in their Group A opener.
Goldthorp is equally adept at a number of sports, having also captained Yorkshire’s cricket team at junior level, but honed her love for rugby league having stood on the terraces of the famous ground since the age of six watching stars like Kevin Sinfield and Rob Burrow.
“I remember going to games when I was very little and experiencing the whole atmosphere for which Headingley is renowned,” Goldthorp told the PA news agency. “Having seen all those great players and now to get the chance to represent my country here is such a special honour.”
A prolific tryscorer who burst onto the scene at the age of 16, Goldthorp, who still lives near the stadium, will play a crucial role alongside veterans like Jodie Cunningham and captain Emily Rudge as England look to upset the odds and claim their first World Cup crown.
For England coach Craig Richards, Goldthorp typifies the kind of confidence levels that will be required for his part-time squad to pull through a difficult opening group and prove a match for the likes of Australia and New Zealand, both of whom boast players predominantly sourced from the fully professional women’s NRL.
“I’ve never seen a more confident person in my life,” said Richards. “You don’t get many players that truly believe they are best, but Fran believes that and she produces on the field.
“There’s an air of confidence about her that even some of the more experienced players feed off. She keeps telling me there’s nothing she isn’t good at, and that’s the type of person you need in our squad.”
Goldthorp hopes the unprecedented profile afforded the World Cup will help revolutionise the women’s game, backed by initiatives such as the Rhinos announcing this week that they will become the first British club to pay women players win bonuses and other “meritocratic” payments.
“It’s a great start and as Leeds Rhinos players we are massively privileged that we are able to experience that,” said Goldthorp.
“It will make a huge difference, not having to worry about other external things. We can just go out there and concentrate on rugby. We love the game but we do need that kind of backing if we want to continue producing the performances.”
England open against a Brazil team, nicknamed the ‘Amazonas’, who have touched hearts with the story of the improbable journey to their first World Cup, and for the samba rhythms and post-match dance session they brought to last week’s warm-up game against France at Featherstone.
None of which remotely impresses Richards, who has been in charge of England since the aftermath of their 2017 semi-final defeat to New Zealand, and will not be distracted by the relatively unknown quantity of Tuesday’s opposition.
“Respectfully, it doesn’t interest me who they are, it doesn’t interest me about the dancing and the razzmatazz,” added Richards.
“Everybody’s bought into them and there’s a lot of talk about them, but we’re here to win a World Cup. They’re just another team that are in the way and that’s how we’re going to approach it.”