Zoe Hornby will complete the latest stage of her remarkable rugby league trajectory when she makes her debut for England against Canada in their second Women’s World Cup group stage game at Wigan on Saturday.
Two years after plying her trade for Whitley Bay Barbarians in the North East League, Hornby will find herself centre-stage for the first part of a double-header at the DW Stadium that also features England men’s quarter-final clash with Papua New Guinea.
The 23-year-old forward caught the attention of Leeds Rhinos in 2021 after a successful trial, and just over a year later she was named player of the match in the Challenge Cup final despite her side’s defeat to St Helens.
“Until a couple of years ago I would never have imagined that I would get the opportunity to play rugby league for my country on such a big occasion,” said Hornby, a student at Northumbria University who also works part-time for Newcastle United’s Football Foundation.
“I grew up playing a lot of rugby union and football before I decided that rugby league was the sport for me and I never looked back.
“The profile of this World Cup for the women’s game is huge and I’m really hopeful that I can show girls, especially in the north-east, that there are opportunities and paths to being successful in the sport.”
England head coach Craig Richards will feature all seven squad members who did not play in the opening 72-4 victory over Brazil, with Hornby’s Leeds team-mates Dannielle Anderson and Keara Bennett, St Helens trio Beth Stott, Paige Travis and Carrie Roberts, and Wigan’s Georgia Wilson also involved for the first time in the tournament.
Rhinos teenager Fran Goldthorp will continue at full-back after an impressive display against the ‘Amazonas’, with York’s reigning Woman of Steel recipient Tara-Jane Stanley staying at centre.
And Richards will be taking nothing for granted against the Canadians, who surprised many with their robust first-half performance against Papua New Guinea last week, before succumbing to a 34-12 defeat.
“I was very impressed with the way Canada played in the first 20 minutes against PNG and we certainly expect them to test us in a number of areas,” said Richards.
“We always said we would take a look at our whole squad in these opening two matches and Zoe’s debut is thoroughly deserved.
“She has come through quickly to establish herself in Super League and she is a player we have been watching for some time. She has really settled in the squad and we are expecting her to play a big part in this campaign.”
Saturday’s game will help Richards further shape his squad towards Thursday’s clash with the PNG Orchids at Headingley, which is likely to determine the Group A winners and with it the identity of their opponents in the semi-finals.