The 2022 Rugby League World Cup will be “thrilling” for fans to watch and “change the game for everyone.”
That is the view of leading broadcaster and Rugby Football League President Clare Balding, who has helped guide the preparations for the event in England which will see men’s, women’s and wheelchair competitions take place concurrently, for the first time in history.
Women’s Sports Alliance (WSA) Founder and Managing Director Jordan Guard was granted rare access to the ‘rugby league fanatic’ who gave us her thoughts on the “ground-breaking” event.
Today, England played Brazil, the first team from South America to compete at a Rugby League World Cup, at Headingly Stadium in Leeds to open the Women’s Rugby League World Cup. England won 72 - 4 in a thrilling match.
Q – Clare, tell us about your connection to rugby league and where your passion came from?
“I presented rugby league programmes to the BBC for about 10 years and I only stopped because of time constraints and commitments to other sports like (horse) racing in particular,” she tells the WSA.
“It was a real shame because I loved it and I've always loved the community, the players would are hugely admirable and I really do love the sport.
“It's always felt that place that was welcoming rather than dismissive, which you will know (as a woman) isn’t always the case.”
What do you think makes this sport so special?
“It’s fast! Because you only have a limited time with the ball, you’ve got to do something with it, in your phase of six tackles. You have to make something happen before the other side gets a chance and it’s designed so there’s, in a sense, less ‘ball hogging’.
“I like rugby union, but you could get 40 phases of play and the other side never even gets a sniff, whereas in rugby league that can’t happen. I think it’s more athletics as well, you don’t have big heavy scrums to keep recycling the ball, so it’s much more active.
“Having spoken to one of the players who has played union and league she said the first time she played league she’s never been more exhausted, ever!
“It requires more running, because you are moving all the time, there’s hardly any slow-down of the game and that for spectators is fantastic because it means it’s action, action, action.”
“If a team is playing well together and they’re thinking ahead and anticipating each other’s moves the wingers can be set free and then there’s nothing more thrilling than watching a rugby league winger run three-quarters of the length of the pitch full pelt to score a try.”
Why is this tournament in England so important to the future of the women’s game?
Caitlin Beavers is being tipped to star for the hosts England - read her preview here!
“I think it's not just important for the women's game, it's a marker. It's the first tournament in any sport where there’s been women's, men's and wheelchair all together.
“London 2012 was the first time that the Olympics and Paralympics had been planned together, so the Paralympics was genuinely parallel to the Olympics and that's taken as an absolute prerequisite.
“This is the first tournament that it's been planned to be all three and I think it will change the game for everyone. It makes perfect sense to have the finals of the men’s and women’s as a double header and the wheelchair the day before.
“You just think ‘why hasn’t this happened before?’ but there needs to be a bit of imagination and it needs a fair amount of investment. Most crucially too there’s a lot of logistical planning which needs to go into, but it can work and it is working.”
What can we expect from the teams competing and can you predict a winner?
“So, for the first time we've got four continents represented, which is a big improvement.
“Brazil are here for the first time representing South America, then you have Canada from North America and there’s Australia, New Zealand, Cook Islands and Papa New Guinea for Oceania, as well as England and France from Europe.
“It's a very fast moving game and it’s never been more broadly spread!
“Australia are the hot favourites and I think we'll see Australia, England final, possibly in both men's and women's!
“I am really hopeful England can really push it. They have belief, ability and the cohesion and they of course have the benefit of being on home soil which is huge.
“So I’m hoping for at least one England win if not two, or three!” Clare’s full WSA Interview film will be released to WSA Subscribers on Monday 7th November. Subscribe here to make sure you don’t miss it.
It is hoped the Women’s Rugby League World Cup will inspire girls around the UK.