Amy Daniels’ stint in rugby league may have been a brief one, but it has certainly been productive as she has played her part in taking Warrington Wolves from being the new kids on the block to a Super League outfit in just five short years.
Having not picked up a rugby ball until her 30s, Amy Daniels found herself finding her feet in a new sport at a time in her life when many professional athletes are usually considering how much longer they can compete at the very top of their chosen sport.
But since 2019 Daniels and Warrington Wolves have been on quite the journey together.
Just as Daniels was new to the game, so were Warrington Wolves – a team getting ready to play their first season in the Women’s Rugby League Championship.
As much as her own game has developed, so have the Wolves, earning promotion to Super League in their first season – a step up that was delayed due to the Covid-cancelled 2020 season.
After a tough season in the top league in 2021, the league split into two groups of six, and up against teams at a similar level to the Wolves, they went through last year unbeaten and earned the right to test themselves against the very best players in the country.
It has again been a hard slog for the Wolves this year, but it’s a season Daniels, who has also done some coaching work with the club’s next generation of players, is determined to enjoy, especially as it looks set to be her last.
“To see how far we’ve developed in such a short space of time has been unbelievable,” 36-year-old Daniels told Rugby League World.
“I have been here from the start so have seen the team develop through the Championship, Super League Two and now Super League One. As a massive Warrington Wolves fan, the growth I have seen on and off the field has been quite overwhelming.
“I have supported this club for a long time so to now be so involved with it is great. I have done a bit of coaching here, in a way I am just devastated that I discovered playing the game so late on in my life.
“I was 30 and had been a netballer all my life. I had ruptured both my Achilles so I started playing some touch rugby with a friend for a bit of fitness and some fun. After a couple of months of doing that, I was approached by a men’s touch team – Warrington Knights – who needed some women to play for them.
“I had a season there and we became national champions. Off the back of that, I was told the Wolves were starting up a women’s team and was asked to go down to the trials and have a go. I was thinking ‘I’m in my 30s, I can’t be doing this’, but I went for that first trial and it all went from there.
“I think my experience of being so sporty and playing a lot of different sports all my life as well as watching rugby league to a level where I actually understand it and am not just a fan really helped me find my feet and it has just got better from there on.
“I just wish I was one of the younger girls coming up through the ranks now, because seeing how the game growing as a whole, there will be lots of exciting opportunities coming up for those girls over the next five or ten years.
“There are girls that I’ve coached in past that are now playing alongside me, and there are others that have just been brought up to train with us and that are starting to get debuts.
“It is nice to see and often you can get more enjoyment out of things like that than playing.
“With the step up to Super League One this year and the additional commitments that came with that, coaching as well would have made it a seven-day-a-week thing on top of a full-time job. It would have been too much, so I just want to concentrate on my last year of playing but would like to go back into coaching next year.
“This will be my last year playing and I just want to enjoy it and leave a legacy within the club in terms of what is expected when it comes to commitment, effort and determination.
“I have a lot of pride in wearing the Warrington Wolves badge, so expect everyone else to feel the same, and that is what this year is all about.”
For so long now the so-called big three have dominated the Women’s game, with Leeds Rhinos, St Helens and York Valkyrie picking up 12 of the 14 available pieces of silverware on offer since 2018.
Wigan and Castleford are the only teams that have broken that monopoly by picking up the 2018 Grand Final and 2019 League Leaders Shield respectively.
Perhaps now is the time then for another club, if not more, to start challenging up near the top and spread success out further across the game – especially with the top league expanding from six clubs to eight in 2024.
Whilst Daniels is confident that there is the potential for Warrington to do that in the coming years, she knows that the governing body also has a role to play in the continued growth of the game at both club and international level.
“I feel that the RFL need to govern and manage the game as a whole in a similar way to how they do it in Australia, where clubs are only allowed a certain number of international stars in their squad,” added Daniels.
“I’m not saying that a handful of international stars chucked into the Warrington team is going make us be up at the top overnight, but in Australia they balance out their key star players across the league.
“What that does is it makes the individual games and the whole competition more competitive and that makes it more appealing for the customer to buy a ticket and go and watch it. That then drives more revenue and money to the game. The clubs then have more revenue and money to perhaps support the players by being part-time in their workloads and training more frequently to become professional athletes.
“Rugby union went down that road four or five years ago and in the last couple of years that has kicked off. The majority of girls playing top level are now athletes that are training five times a week and that has helped to grow, develop and advance the game.
“That sort of governance from the RFL is the next step that needs to be taken to grow the Women’s game.
“The more teams and players we can have competing at the top, and pushing for the England squad the better for the game. Then those players who aren’t hitting the top just yet will only benefit from playing alongside girls that are in the set-up every week.
“That will make the game grow as a whole, not just Warrington.”
First published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 487 (August 2023)