How love took England star Eboni Partington to York Valkyrie with rugby partner

When a player changes club it is a big upheaval in itself, but Eboni Partington has changed her whole life in joining York Valkyrie from St Helens.

WHAT would you do for love?

If you’re anything like Eboni Partington, you’ll make big changes to your home life, work life and rugby life.

The 21-year-old’s move to reigning Super League champions York Valkyrie from St Helens mirrors that of her partner Taylor Pemberton, who spent time on loan at the North Yorkshire club last season before making the switch permanent.

The pair are now embracing their new life in the Minster City, with Partington able to call herself a professional rugby league player, due to the contracts handed out by the Valkyrie.

And it was that additional security that made the move across the Pennines much easier to manage.

“I’ve pretty much moved my whole life over to York,” Partington told Rugby League World.

“But it’s going really well. I have the responsibility of a house now, a new job, new teammates and I’m getting stuck into it all.

“I was never really looking to leave St Helens or the girls over there and if Taylor hadn’t have moved I wouldn’t have. 

“He signed a three-year deal with York and for him to travel for that three years would have been too tough.

“It’s a two-hour journey there and back, and now he’s working part-time as well it would have been too much for him so it made sense for him to move. 

“He didn’t really want to do it on his own, so when the opportunity came up for me to do it with him it seemed silly to turn it down. We’d always said we’d wanted to move in together so it just seemed the right time.

“The move was never about a contract or money, it was about starting a new life with my partner, facing new challenges, moving away from home and experiencing new things.

“Me and Taylor were at school together and met on a rugby field when we were about 15. He’s the only reason I started playing for Saints in the first place. 

“He was at the club and saw they were hosting under-19s trials and said I should get involved. It all went from there and now we’re living with each other for the first time in a brand new city.

“We’ve had the usual stresses you get when moving house, but we’re dead supportive of each other so it’s been a great move so far.

“When I was talking to the club about signing, I said that if they could help me find a job over then I’d love to move.

“So now I’m working as an office manager in a gin distillery that’s just moved into York. There’s a little bit of everything involved, but I’m mainly keeping everything up to date in the office.

“It’s very different to being an MOT and service advisor in St Helens, but I’m really enjoying it. 

“They’re a partner of the club as well, so they are supportive of what they’re trying to do and are happy for me to have time off when I need it, which makes it easier for me to focus on the rugby.

“The contracts the girls have at York are not enough to live on by itself, so it’s important we found a balance. 

“I know the job has to come first but it is really helpful to have a supportive team behind me when I’m there. They support me and the club, and the club supports them, so it’s a win-win situation.”

Partington joined the St Helens under 19s squad in 2019 before being invited to train with the first team, making her debut for them in the 96-0 Challenge Cup win over Stanningley later that year. Staying in and around the squad from then on, Partington enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2022, scoring two tries in St Helens’ Challenge Cup Final win at Elland Road.

She scored another in the historic Wembley final the following season, but her performance that day might be best remembered for a superb, try-saving cover tackle on Leeds’ Amy Hardcastle – a moment that swung the game and saw Saints score three quick tries before Leeds had another meaningful touch of the ball.

But despite all her personal success in the Challenge Cup, there is one high in the game she is yet to savour – but that is something she hopes to put right in 2024 as York look to continue their dominance in Super League.

“I wasn’t part of the Saints squad that won the 2021 Grand Final, so I’ve never actually played in a Grand Final or won one,” Partington added.

“I have played in a Challenge Cup final twice, so playing in a Grand Final this year is a major goal of mine.

“I was just starting to break into the first team when Saints were on that run, but from knowing what it’s like going into a season defending the title, the advice from me to the York girls is to want to do it for each other and to want to win for each other.

“Keeping hold of a trophy takes a lot of determination and courage because others are going to come out stronger, bigger and better and will want to take it from us. 

“If we can have those traits in our performances every week we’ll be good and hopefully defend what the club won last year.

“As much as I want that, I am also already eyeing up a return to Wembley. That experience was second to none and it was the best memory of my career to date.

“In the build-up I knew it was something special and to have been part of that and score a try is something that will stay with me forever.

“I was never a particularly big Super League fan before I played so I was maybe a bit naive as to what I was actually doing that day and didn’t think too much of it. But everyone was talking about it and Taylor kept telling me I was doing something he’d dreamt of doing his whole life.

“It was such a special day and I will be doing all I can to ensure that I am there again with this group of girls. If we stay focused I am sure that we can achieve that.”

First published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 495 (April 2024)

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