CJ’s Column: Former England and Wigan captain Gemma Walsh on her life, career and signing for St Helens

Gemma Walsh is without doubt one of the toughest and most respected players of the Women’s game. We all know her capabilities, her great rugby mind and how much of a menace she is on the pitch.

I lined up against her earlier this year and I’m not embarrassed to say she got past me in the process of scoring a phenomenal try. Gemma is a true Wiganer so it left everyone stunned when it was announced she would be leaving the club at the end of 2019.

So, as I (CJ) sat down with former England captain Gemma (GW) for an in-depth interview about her career, I waited in anticipation as she revealed which team she had signed for.

CJ: Tell me a bit about yourself, how did you get into rugby and at what age?

GW: I started playing rugby when I was about 10 or 11. Back then there weren’t any girls’ teams around so I used to go training with my younger brother Craig at Wigan St Judes. My first team was Golborne Girls and then as soon as I turned 16, I went to play for Hindley Ladies. It was in my first season playing open age that I met the person who has had the biggest influence on my rugby career, Brenda Dobek. She was Player-Coach at Wakefield Panthers who were arguably the most successful team in the women’s game. I signed for Wakefield the following season and also received my first call-up into the Great Britain training squad, from then on I’ve not looked back.

CJ: You announced on social media that you have left Wigan Warriors; do you have a new club lined up and what were your reasons for leaving?

GW: I left Wigan at the end of last season and I’m really excited that I’m going to be signing for St. Helens. Playing and captaining Wigan was a dream come true for me, I’m a Wiganer through and through and to be able to say that I won the Grand Final playing for the team I love was probably one of the greatest achievements in my career. I’m sad how my time ended at Wigan. I really thought after we had achieved what we had in 2018 (winning the Grand Final) the club would kick on and the support for the women would be better than ever, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case and the whole 2019 season was an uphill struggle with things internally that was out of the players control. I hope the girls this season get the support they deserve.

Walsh led Wigan to the 2018 Super League title. Credit: Craig Milner/News Images

CJ: Your move is clearly a personal one. Some people will find it quite shocking that you have moved to a rival club and no doubt you’ll receive some jovial stick. Your wife, Emily Rudge (Walsh), is England captain but also one of the main players at St Helens, the team you are of course joining. How does Emily feel about the move?

GW: Emily is excited for my move and fully supports me. It will be much easier in our personal life too. I’ve seen first-hand how much the club value their women’s team and I’ve heard nothing but positives from her, so the decision was very easy for me to make. Saints play a really attacking style of rugby and I’m looking forward to being a part of this great club and I’m buzzing to get in and start pre-season.

Gemma has captained Wigan since their formation but will join arch-rivals St Helens next season. Credit: Craig Milner/News Images

CJ: As an international and a more mature player, what is your advice to our younger players coming up, how can they succeed to progress onto the international platform?

GW: Having played for my country, the advice I’d give any of the younger girls wanting to pull on an England shirt is work hard at your club first and foremost, that’s where you learn all the core skills needed. The game has changed so much since I was a kid and the strength & conditioning side of training is much more important now, as the game is more physical and a lot quicker than it was.

CJ: What are your predictions for the 2020 season? Which teams should we look out for and who will finish in the top four?

GW: I think the 2020 season will be the best Women’s Super League yet. I fully expect all the teams to be working harder in pre-season and to be fitter, faster and stronger than last season. I think the top three teams in Castleford, Saints and Leeds will all be up there fighting it out come the business end of the season, but I think the fight for the fourth place spot is really interesting. Featherstone finished really strongly towards the back end of last season so they will be hoping to kick on and obviously Bradford only just missed out on fourth spot to Wigan, so I imagine them two teams will be battling it out as well. I’m really looking forward to seeing how Warrington go too; they were awesome last season in the Championship, and they have some class players so I’m hoping they go well.

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