WINNING THE Women’s Challenge Cup was a “ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark season” for Leeds Rhinos, chief executive Gary Hetherington says.
Rhinos retained the trophy with a 16-10 victory over favourites – and Super League leaders – Castleford Tigers in yesterday’s final at University of Bolton Stadium.
With Rhinos’ men sitting third from bottom in the table and in real danger of relegation, it was a much-needed filip for the club – and Hetherington felt the win was on par with anything Leeds have achieved in his 23 years at the helm.
He was invited into the changing room after the match and revealed: “I said to the girls I have been privileged to be part of so many major occasions and successes, but I find myself just as proud and just as excited [by this] as any that’s gone before.”
Rhinos women’s side played their first match last year and have featured in every available final since, winning the Challenge Cup – against Tigers – and league leaders’ shield last year and being Grand Final runners-up to Wigan Warriors.
“What they have achieved is quite remarkable and in the true spirit of Leeds Rhinos’ success,” Hetherington added.
“It was full of heart and determination camaraderie, all hallmarks of Leeds Rhinos’ success over many years.
“It is a very proud day for the club.”
The women’s game is a growth area for rugby league and more than 4,000 fans were in the stadium for the end of the final, which was the first part of a triple-header with the men’s semi-finals.
Female players are amateurs, but Hetherington reckons that will change in the near future.
“Rugby league is a leading light in promoting women’s sport,” Hetherington said.
“There is a real growing interest.
“It is a different game [to the men’s version] and that’s part of its attraction.
“There are players who’ve got skills we haven’t seen for a long time, old fashioned skills.
“It is a terrific sport to watch and there’s some terrific athletes among the players.”
Rhinos are hoping for a record crowd when they face Tigers in Super League at Emerald Headingley on Saturday, August 17.