Leeds Rhinos v Castleford Tigers: Courtney Hill’s steeled for second shot at silverware

Leeds Rhinos' Courtney Hill.Leeds Rhinos' Courtney Hill.
Leeds Rhinos' Courtney Hill.
THE PAIN of 12 months ago will give Leeds Rhinos added incentive in Friday’s title showdown, Woman of Steel Courtney Hill says.
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Rhinos are preparing to take on Castleford Tigers in the Betfred Women’s Super League Grand Final, two days short of a year after Wigan Warriors shattered their hopes of being crowned champions at the end of their first season.

Courtney Hill in action against St Helens in last week's qualifying semi-final.Courtney Hill in action against St Helens in last week's qualifying semi-final.
Courtney Hill in action against St Helens in last week's qualifying semi-final.

Leeds trailed by 10 points going into the last quarter of the 2018 Grand Final, but hit back to level the scores before a stoppage-time penalty goal handed the trophy to Wigan.

Hill, Rhinos’ scrum-half and captain, described that loss as “agonising and disappointing” and admitted nobody in the team wants a similar feeling on Friday.

“You have to wait 12 months for the opportunity to come around again, if it does,” she said.

“There’s no guarantees you will be back in the final.

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Leeds Rhinos' Lois Forsell.Leeds Rhinos' Lois Forsell.
Leeds Rhinos' Lois Forsell. | © Photosport Ltd 2017 / www.photosport.nz © SWpix.com (t/a Photography Hub Ltd)

“The fact we’ve given ourselves a chance is a good start and now it’s 80 minutes away, but it’s a very big 80 minutes ahead of us.

“A lot of the girls are out to fix the mistakes we made last year and we are all really excited to have that opportunity again.”

Tigers will be thinking the same, having suffered one of only two defeats this year when Rhinos beat them, for the second successive season, in the Coral Challenge Cup final three months ago.

Tigers finished top of the table, five points ahead of third-placed Leeds and had a 100 per cent winning record in the league until losing at St Helens in the final round.

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“You would think it’s going to be a tight and exciting game,” Hill predicted.

“I believe we have got the two best teams in the competition there again.

“That itself gives you the best game possible, but on the back of recent matches there’s always plenty of points scored and in pressure games that only adds to the excitement, so it should be good.”

Whatever the result, everybody involved knows the big match is an opportunity to showcase women’s rugby league to a new audience. The final, at St Helens’ Totally Wicked Stadium, will be the first Women’s Super League fixture broadcast live on Sky Sports.

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“It seems to have built all year,” Hill said of interest in the women’s game.

“We had great exposure and coverage leading into the Challenge Cup final and it has stepped up a gear.

“It’s all leading into a nice finale to the season, with the Grand Final being a rematch of the Challenge Cup. It should be a great end to the year.”

Hill was player of the match in Rhinos’ Cup win and added to her collection of personal honours when she was named Woman of Steel earlier this week.

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That was a remarkable achievement for the Australian – a former top cricketer who only began playing rugby league when she emigrated to England last year – and the fact the winner is chosen by players on rival teams made it extra-special.

“Each player in the competition votes, but you are not allowed to vote for anyone in your own team,” Hill said.

“I suppose in that sense it’s an opponents’ vote. It’s really lovely; I was chuffed to be named in the top-three, let alone take home silverware.

“That was icing on the cake.”

Rhinos have been without Lois Forsell, last year’s captain, all season owing to an anterior cruciate ligament injury which kept her out of the 2018 Grand Final.

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Hill admitted, with the side’s most inspirational player unavailable, she had to step up to the plate.

She said: “Without Lois on the paddock and stepping up into the captaincy role I knew I had to find another gear to my game.

“I have done a lot of things to try and help that. I have gone out and sought a fella by the name of Matt Cook as my speed/sprint coach and I do a lot of sessions with him.

“I have had the pleasure of working with Kevin Sinfield with my kicking and I’ve been doing extras with our coaching staff.

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“Based on Lois being out I had to find another gear and I felt that I did. It is a real disappointment for her, the struggle she has been through with injury, but I sent her a massage thanking her and hopefully she realises the incredible impact she has had, through terrible circumstances herself.

“She has had such a positive impact on me and she continues to help me lead the group and educate me around the game, because I am still on a massive learning journey.”