Ex-Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers ace Georgia Roche talks NRLW dream, England return and future plans
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Stand-off Roche enjoyed a glittering first season in the NRL Women’s competition, helping Newcastle Knights to top spot in the table and a Grand Final win over Gold Coast Titans.
“It was a dream for me just going out there and first of all playing in that competition,” said Roche, who will feature for England against Wales at AMT Headingley on Saturday, in a curtain-raiser to the men’s Test with Tonga.
“My goal was just to go there and play, then winning the Minor Premiership, I thought, was the cherry on top. To win that and the Premiership as well was an unbelievable experience. I had a whirlwind of emotions and it was a bit surreal at times.”
Roche is one of three England players who featured in the NRLW last year, alongside former Leeds teammate Fran Goldthorpe and ex-York Valkyrie star Hollie-Mae Dodd. Goldthorpe and Dodd both picked up injuries ruling them out of Saturday’s game, but their impressive form in Australia is likely to ensure other Super League-based stars will be approached by Australian clubs.
Despite joining Knights on a five-year full-time contract, reported in the Australian media as being a “world record” deal, trailblazer Roche insisted she hasn’t felt under extra pressure. She said: “Not at all, there’s a couple of other girls who have signed lengthy contracts too and I think the lucky thing about me is I fly under the radar. There’s bigger names out there who make the headlines.
“There’s only pressure if you put it on yourself and I definitely don’t do that. The girls were great from the minute I got there. They had a care package for me, of all the Australian things, which was nice and from then on I was just seen as one of the sisters. It is a sisterhood they have created at Newcastle, which I am very grateful and lucky to be part of.”
Roche - the first Woman of Steel in 2018, when she was a Castleford player - has remained in close touch with Leeds coach Lois Forsell and her former teammates, admitting: “I think Lois must be sick of hearing from me. I am surprised she hasn’t blocked my number.
“I have spoken to a lot of the girls, we are still friends. Me and Keara Bennett are good friends so I’ve kept in touch with her throughout the year and I’ve watched their progress and their games. I watched the Challenge Cup final and the games in between and the Grand Final.”
Roche’s departure created an unexpected opportunity for teenage half-back Caitlin Casey, who had expected to be a fringe player in 2023, but went on to win the Women’s Super League young player of the year award.
Roche believes the youngster has a big future. She noted: “I think she has risen to the occasion. She’s obviously very young and she has been brought into a well-drilled and gelled squad. I think towards the back end of the year she did her job to a good standard and I am sure in a few years’ time she will be wearing an England jersey.”
Roche will be 27 when her current contract ends and has not ruled out a return to Super League at some stage, but for the moment she is enjoying Aussie life and won’t be lingering in England after Saturday’s Test.
“There could be an opportunity [to return],” she said. “But the contract is a lengthy one so I will see that out first and see where I end up. It is nice to be back, despite the cold. Being back home, seeing family and friends is great. I go back on November 15, two weeks and I am definitely not counting.”
Though NRLW clubs don’t begin pre-season until April or May, Roche confirmed: “I am going straight back to the warmth. A few things have come up and when I go back I’ll reset over Christmas, look at my options and see what happens.”
While England will be expected to breeze past Wales on Saturday, Roche is confident the occasion is worth flying half way around the world for. “It’s exciting, just to be able to play in front of my family,” she said. “That hasn’t happened for a while now so for them to experience the occasion will be good. Being at Headingley is special as well, as a Leeds fan from being very young.”