Women rugby league stars ready to pass their big screen test in Challenge Cup final between St Helens and York City Knights
WHEN the 2021 Women’s Super League kicked off in April, it had been more than 18 months since female rugby league players had been able to step onto the field for a competitive game but the enforced hiatus has done little to halt the momentum of the women’s game.
Today, York City Knights will look to lift their first Challenge Cup when they face St Helens at the Leigh Sports Village.
The game will be shown live on the BBC for the first time and for the Knights’ Savannah Andrade it is an “amazing opportunity” to showcase the talent within the women’s game.
Andrade is one of seven star recruits that have joined York this year, with the former Bradford Bulls player arriving in North Yorkshire alongside another former Bradford player in Olivia Wood and five ex-Castleford Tigers players in Rhiannion Marshall, Kelsey Gentles, Tamzin Renouf, Grace Field and Sinead Peach.
Whatever the outcome later today, there will be a new name on the Women’s Challenge Cup and Andrade believes that showcases the increase in talent competing in the women’s game.
“It gives more people the opportunity to see women’s rugby. I don’t think, at the moment, it gets shown enough,” said Andrade, with the final forming part of a triple-header with the Challenge Cup semi-finals being held at the same venue.
“Having such a big game shown on live TV, that is free, is an amazing opportunity and the girls really appreciate it.
“It is great we are playing before the men. When we have done it in the past, we have got more fans down to our games or they will catch the end of our game if they are coming to the men’s game. It means we can hopefully get more fans supporting women’s rugby.”
She added: “I just think the girls’ game is going to keep growing with more talent coming through and more competitive games, hopefully.”
York have defeated Wakefield Trinity, Wigan Warriors and Castleford Tigers on their way to the final. The Knights ended the 2019 Super League season with just one win and only avoided finishing bottom on points difference.
Clearly, they are a much more competitive outfit this year and Andrade feels it is important for the spectacle and growth of the game that there are more sides who are able to compete.
“There are some really good teams in the Women’s Super League and when they play against each other, they are always really tight, close games,” continued Andrade.
“That is what people want to see. When I was at Bradford we played St Helens and lost 86-0 but that is not good for anyone to watch really.
“St Helens got a really big win but it wasn’t a challenging game for them. People want to watch games that have them on the edge of their seats.”
The Huddersfield-born centre scored a hat-trick in the semi-final against Castleford. She is no stranger to success, having been part of Bradford’s 2017 invincible season which saw them go an entire year unbeaten to win the Challenge Cup and Grand Final. Rugby league runs in the family, with her brother, Jordan Andrade, a Jamaica international who is currently plying his trade with Hunslet RFLC.
“I had been at Bradford since I was 16, it was amazing and I had loads of great opportunities there,” added Andrade.
“We won the Challenge Cup and went undefeated one year. We saw a lot of players go and I felt I needed to go to a different team to give myself a bigger opportunity.
“I was two games into the season with Bradford and then I got a call from Lindsay Anfield (director of rugby) at York. She just explained this new venture she was going on with York and that she wanted me to come down, talk with her and the chairman.
“We went and spoke to them and the chairman was saying how he wanted to invest a lot of time and money into the women’s game at York and I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. It has been absolutely amazing and I am so glad it came at this time.”
Andrade is rarely found without a rugby ball in her hands as when the league season is over, she plays rugby union with West Park Leeds and is dual-registered with Premier 15s side Sale Sharks.
She said: “A rugby coach came into my school when I was in Year 9 and I thought I would give it a go.
“I really enjoyed the session, we did a few matches with our high school and then I decided to go to his club, which was St Joseph’s in Fartown, in Huddersfield.
“I played there until I was 16 and then I went to Bradford Bulls. When I was 17 I started playing rugby union, so I have been playing league and union alongside each other for about three years now.
“It means I am playing all year round, which is a lot, but also really enjoyable. I started playing union at Doncaster and then I went to West Park Leeds and that is who I am signed with now.
“Last November, I had a phone-call with the coach of Sale Sharks and I went down there. I am dual-registered with them and West Park Leeds but I haven’t played for them yet but that is the hope for next season.”
Andrade attended All Saints College in Huddersfield, the same school as Huddersfield Giants stalwart Jermaine McGillvary.
She said: “When they posted the rugby league team of the week last week, me and Jermaine McGillvary were both in the same one.
“I used to go and watch him play and now we are both on that team-sheet. It is really good to see. When I started at Bradford, I was a winger so he was definitely an inspiration for me.
“I have now moved to centre but when I was a bit quicker I played on the wing.”
McGillvary has been an England regular since his debut in 2015 and with a home World Cup at the end of the year, Andrade hopes her performances can earn her a spot in the women’s team.
She has been in the England performance squad previously and said: “If I get the call-up, that would be absolutely amazing.
“I am not in the England squad or training with them at the minute but if I did get that call, it would be an amazing opportunity.
“I think the World Cup will be a really big push for the women’s game. We will get more viewers and, hopefully, some new fans.
“The game will be easier to watch with it being here and it might push some girls to be more interested who maybe haven’t tried out rugby yet.
“If they get to watch some of the games, they might want to try it out themselves. I definitely think it could bring more talent into the game.”
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