Craig Richards makes call for professionalism as he departs England role

CRAIG RICHARDS called for professionalism in the women’s game after confirming his time as England head coach was up.

England’s World Cup campaign ended at the semi-final stage with defeat to New Zealand in York last Monday.

Their players are amateur, in contrast to the Kiwis and fellow finalists Australia whose players compete in the professional NRLW, and Richards said he could ask no more of them considering they prepared for the World Cup around their full-time jobs.

“I look at the girls and I’m so proud of them. I’ve been on that journey with them, I’ve seen how hard they’ve worked,” said Richards. 

“I see how they’ve balanced their lives, the sacrifices they’ve made. I can’t put into words how proud I am of them. 

“I don’t know what else they could have done, apart from sack off work and train unemployed. 

“I’ve got girls that are heading to gyms at half five to get a session in before work, and then (train) in skills after work. What more do you want from them? There’s nothing more I want from them.”

Asked if professionalism was the answer, Richards added: “It is, (although) I don’t know how we get that. 

“These guys (New Zealand) have gone professional so a decision has to be made. Do you want to compete with them or not?”

Leeds Rhinos announced last month that they will be the first Women’s Super League club to pay their players, who are set to receive a winning bonus and payments for potential success in the Challenge Cup and Grand Final in 2023.

Pressure will inevitably fall on other leading clubs to follow suit, but Richards warned that money in itself is not everything and that standards must improve with the finance.

“First and foremost I think they deserve it and I hope that’s the way it goes,” he said. 

“On the back of payment, being professional isn’t about finances and money, it’s about behaviours. 

“I just hope the players that do get the financial rewards embrace it and recognise what being professional is. Money isn’t everything. 

“The money can drop into your account and you carry on the way you are, which will bring the same outcome. 

“Teams, clubs, coaches, everybody: roll your sleeves up and dig in. 

“The money needs to be a bonus, there needs to be an attitude change. Everybody needs to work hard. 

“I hope professionalism pushes them and entices them to work as hard as this England squad. If we get a bigger group of players similar to these, we’ll beat the Aussies and the Kiwis and close that gap.”

Richards broke down in tears at the end of his press conference following the New Zealand defeat, after revealing that he would be leaving the job after five years in charge.

“It will be somebody else who takes the team forward,” said Richards, who will remain involved at St Helens where he is head of women’s rugby.

“That decision was made a while ago. It won’t be me. 

“I’ll support from afar, at the club I work at and make them the best they can be. I’ll fall back into my role and push those girls forward for club and country.”