By HARRY EWBANK
St Helens suffered last minute heartbreak in both the Super League play-offs and Challenge Cup Semi-finals in 2019, but Saints forward – and current England captain – Emily Rudge believes they will come back stronger when the new season can finally get underway.
In 2008, 16-year-old Emily Rudge wouldn’t in her wildest dreams be able to envisage the path she has been on to help towards putting Women’s Rugby League on the map in England.
As an amateur at Thatto Heath Crusaders – the largest amateur club in the country at present – Warrington born Rudge received a shock England call up ahead of the World Cup in Australia which was to be the first the nation had ever solely competed in (entered as Great Britain in 2000 and 2004).
Twelve years on and she is England captain, married to former captain Gemma Walsh, and is an integral part of building towards a home World Cup in 2021.
But for now, the St Helens star is fully concentrated on preparing for a vital season that for all her hard work may not even take place…
“The most disappointing part of it is I thought that we were in a really good place ahead of the season,” said Rudge who was hoping for a return to action on the 22nd March in an opening weekend encounter against Castleford Tigers.
“We had a brilliant pre-season and we were really going well, though everyone’s still working hard at home and keeping up with their fitness so I do feel good about this year.”
The lockdown has forced a different routine for all sportsmen and women, and Rudge and wife Gemma have relished getting stuck in.
“As a team we get sent through regular strength and conditioning updates and we’ve done a few sessions on Zoom so we can all workout together.
She added: “Obviously that can’t be done for all forms of exercise that we do, but we’ve embraced it and been creative.”
And the pair have taken it in their stride by fixing up a pull up bar across their shed as well as lifting garden ornaments and pots, which appeared as part of Emily’s “OuRLeague isolation diary” – A feature from England Rugby League’s twitter account following how different stars are dealing with the lockdown.
It also takes mental strength for a team to be successful, and after Saints struggled with the weight on their shoulders in the vital moments last season Rudge truly believes that they have enough to lift themselves up and go one better this time around.
“It was gutting last year and we maybe didn’t manage ourselves enough in the big games but I think we have learnt a lot from that.”
Despite knockbacks in the last year, there has also been a great deal to be positive about as the England star gained many plaudits.
The 28-year-old received a nomination for the Women of Steel award, which was won by Leeds Rhinos’ Courtney Hill, whilst also putting in a heroic captain’s shift in England’s one win in Papua New Guinea in a series drawn 1-1.
The first test victory saw Rudge set an England Women’s record in scoring four tries in a 24-10 win.
The tour saw the squad paid for the first leg of their trip, and despite the difficulties facing Rugby League at the moment, she is quietly confident of an affluent future for the sport she has grown up with.
“Building towards the 2021 World Cup is the next big focus,” said Rudge.
“If we get the best possible England squad together and if we are successful it would give the Women’s game a huge boost and I’d like to see women getting paid at club level or for England.
“Getting paid on last year’s tour with England was a step in the right direction and I think it would improve the quality in the sport and there would be a lot more talent to select from.”
For now, the hard slog in a national pandemic goes on for the Saints squad, who are balancing training with work.
Rudge is a PE teacher -currently going into work on a two-week rotary basis – and the squad including NHS workers, a local police officer, supermarket workers and youth carers are certainly doing their bit in tackling an unprecedented period both on and off the field.