‘It needed to happen’: Matty Smith on the importance of St Helens’ women being paid

ST HELENS coach Matty Smith has said match payments are fully deserved after the club confirmed last week that its female stars will be financially rewarded for their efforts on the pitch for the first time.

Having already supported the players off the field through such benefits as medical care, gym membership and nutritional support, since its formation in November 2017, Saints have now taken the next step by paying their players on a match-by-match basis.

York Valkyrie have their squad on part-time contracts, while Leeds also offer payments to their players. While it will still be some time before the game goes fully professional, this latest move by Saints is another positive step forward for the game. 

“This is 100 percent no less than these players deserve,” Smith told League Express.

“I’ve been with this group for a year and they are so dedicated to what they do, so to get to this point is not only a great moment for the women’s game and the club, but a huge moment for these girls.

“To finally get paid to do something that they have grown up doing is huge for them.

“I went part time for two years when I played at Widnes at the end of my career, so I know what it takes to work all day and then train two or three times a week on top of that. It’s not easy and takes a lot of dedication, but these girls do it relentlessly and I am full of respect for them for that.

“It’s a lot harder doing this than being a professional sportsman, when playing is your job, so this group fully deserve all the credit they are getting.

“We’ve done this in the right way, we’ve always looked after them in terms of medical care, gym memberships and feeding the girls after every session. That was the right thing to do at that stage, and this is the next step, and it’s the right time to take that. 

“In order to keep this group together and competitive it probably needed to happen, given what other clubs are doing, but it is fully deserved.”

Having already become the first team to win the domestic treble in 2021, and then the first to win the Challenge Cup at Wembley in 2023, St Helens’ players are used to creating history. But now they will continue to be seen as trailblazers by becoming the first paid female players in Saints colours.

The move paves the way for generations of girls in the future to get involved with Women’s Rugby League within St Helens, but Smith has seen first-hand that it is not only young female players that his stars are inspiring.

“This is a great time to be involved in the women’s game,” added Smith, who is entering his second season in the job.

“Playing at Wembley and on big stages is showing other girls what they can achieve in this sport so all these players are inspiring a lot of people.

“A lot of people talk about them inspiring young girls, but it’s not just them. I got my little lad the home and the away kit for his birthday and he said he wanted ‘Dodd 7’ on the back of the home shirt and ‘Cunningham 13’ on the away one. 

“So they’re inspiring lads, women, men – everyone – because they are on such a big stage now and showing what they can do.

“That’s really special to be a part of.”

As well as payments, St Helens have also confirmed the return of Rachael Woosey, who was part of the 2021 treble winning squad, before moving on at the end of the following season.