It's great to be back - Leeds Rhinos captain Courtney Winfield-Hill excited for Women's Super League return after 18-month Covid break
The last time time Leeds Rhinos Women played a game of rugby league, Covid-19 didn’t exist, Boris Johnson’s government was without a working majority, the UK was in the European Union and Leeds United were a Championship team.
A mere 555 days after Rhinos beat Castleford Tigers in the 2019 Grand Final, completing the Betfred Challenge Cup-Super League double, they will finally begin their defence against York City Knights tomorrow.
The entire 2020 season was wiped out because of coronavirus, but a full campaign is planned this year with matches initially being played behind closed doors at two venues, including Rhinos’ Weetwood Sports Park base for fixtures west of the Pennines.
It has been a long time coming and Leeds captain and reigning Woman of Steel Courtney Winfield-Hill feels the competition’s return will be a weight off all the players’ shoulders.
“It’s a bit like when you’ve been on holiday, but you’re really keen for that first day back at school, to see all your mates,” the Aussie half-back said.
“Perhaps I’m the only girl who used to get excited about going back to school, but it’s not just me – all the girls are incredibly excited.
“It has been a long time and not having Super League has left a big hole for a lot of us. I’m really excited and looking forward to Sunday.”
Winfield-Hill is confident it won’t take teams long to get back into the swing of things, despite a year and a half off the field. Rhinos have been training for six weeks and she said: “Usually, we’d have at least three months. We’ve had a shortened pre-season, it may not have been quantity, but it was certainly quality.
“I think we’ve got some really great kids coming up from the under-19s who have now joined the senior programme so I think our depth is good and it will be tested this year.
“We’ve still got Covid hovering and a lot of potential injuries, given the long time off and short pre-season, but I am pretty certain it won’t be too long until we are hitting our full straps.”
The England women’s performance programme has continued during the layoff and Winfield-Hill reckons that will help Rhinos, whose squad includes a host of potential World Cup players.
“There’s a really good nucleus of Super League players who have had good-quality training across the Covid period,” she added. “They have come back into Rhinos and those girls are looking really good, really sharp.”
In a situation unique in the Leeds club’s history, their coach, Lois Forsell, is about to begin maternity leave.
“She has driven a really high-quality pre-season,” Winfield-Hill said of the former England player who succeeded Adam Cuthbertson as team boss at the end of last season.
“She has done a tremendous job, the baby was due last Thursday and I can’t quite believe she was still there at training, on her due date, but she was.
“We’ve got Ant and Dave Gibbons who are assistant-coaches and will step in for Lois until the time comes when she’s able to get the baby settled and into a routine.
“Knowing Lois, it won’t be too far away. She is incredibly committed and passionate and she will be back sooner than we know.”
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