Cast your minds back 16 years ago: Australia triumphed at the Rugby League World Cup in 2000 and defeated rivals New Zealand in a 40-12 final hammering.
But, like in most sports, the women’s game was cast to one side because of the dominance of their male counterparts.
Unbeknown to most, that same year marked a historic debut for women’s rugby league as New Zealand surpassed the men’s team to win the first ever World Cup.
And it was only fifteen years previous, in 1985, that the Rugby Football League even recognised the British women as a team.
So, with more and more rugby league teams now accepting their female equivalents, I decided to look at the growth of women’s rugby league and what the future holds.
From its birth 31 years ago, the women’s game has improved from just a few clubs in Yorkshire and Lancashire to the Premier League there is today, where 12 teams compete. And at international level, there is now enough teams to form a World Cup.
England’s women provided an excellent curtain raiser before the men’s game against France on October 22, where they eased past the French women 36-6.
And, speaking to Joanne Phillips, who orchestrated the pioneering move in bringing the first female team to Super League at Wakefield, said international games like the match against France are paramount to the success of the ladies’ game.
“It was a colossal result for the ladies against France. With them playing the curtain raiser before the men’s game, it gives the women’s game more recognition,” Joanne said.
“The World Cup next year will be played in conjunction with the men’s competition and if some of those games can be televised, it will give the women’s game the recognition it needs.
“It would expose the game to new audiences and give the girls and women who are watching, something to inspire to,” she added.
Clubs like Bradford and Wigan St Patricks have had ladies’ teams for a while now, but for a Super League club to join forces with the female game will only develop it further.
Joanne hopes that through the introduction of female rugby in Super League, there will be a catalyst of investment to help the game evolve. Wakefield Trinity became the first club to couple up with the ladies’ side back in July, and since then Castleford and Hull FC have followed suit.
“The fact that the Super League teams are getting behind the game is great. We are by no means at that standard, but I would hope that the future does lie in more investment from the RFL. That would mean we could really reach out to people instead of expecting them to come to us.
“Our main aim is to instil confidence and self-belief into the girls, along with having ambition but putting no pressure on them.
“Teams will grow with their own personal development, and helping this right from grass roots level is what it’s all about – that’s the only way you’ll grow the game,” she added.
James Stephenson, who is head of community at Trinity, played a significant role in getting this move to happen: “It ruffled a few feathers at first, but the general perception is that it’s a fantastic move for the club.”
“The RFL have given us their full backing and we’re now in a position as a club where we can grow the female game,” he added.
Women’s rugby league is developing in the right direction and this year has shown a huge growth in interest – the link with the Super League clubs can inspire people to get involved with the game and create a pathway for people to take note, which they are starting to do.
In fact, because the prospect of the female game is so bright, Wakefield have taken it upon themselves to submit their new project ‘Girl Code 13’ to the Aviva Community fund for which they have been shortlisted.
James, who spoke to me about the fund, explained just how the project and funding will work.
“We have bid for the highest possible grant, £25,000, and that will go towards employing a dedicated female development officer, and trying to establish eight new girls’ teams in the Wakefield district. We’ll also look to introduce an U18s side for the Trinity Ladies, as well as working with 1,000+ girls aged 12 and over in the community.”
The project ties in perfectly with the nationwide “This Girl Can” campaign developed by Sport England who celebrate active women up and down the country.
There are 3862 projects vying for funding from the Aviva Community programme, varying in size and money, and it would help ladies’ rugby league significantly if Girl Code 13 was successful.
It is all about working to develop the female game in the district of Wakefield, and then eventually catapulting the game as a whole to a new level.
With the female game already growing to new heights, there is a hope that the evolution of it overseas in the NRL, with the investment they put into the ladies and the development programme, will be a model and sign of things to come here in the UK.
Women’s rugby union is a prime example: it has taken off drastically, seeing the England ladies win the World Cup in 2014 and notch a seventh consecutive Six Nations crown in 2012. Using this as inspiration, and the prospect of more funding and recognition, female rugby league has a lot to look forward to.
Show your support for the ladies in voting for Wakefield’s Girl Code 13 – CLICK HERE