Lorraine Marsden catches up with a team who have bared all to help grow the female student game
Little over two years ago, Liverpool University’s Womens Rugby League team were facing an ominous future.
With dwindling numbers, it looked as though the club would fold, and a merger with the Uni’s union club was even mooted.
However, once club president Emily Cross stood up and said that would be like asking the badminton and tennis teams to combine, she and her team mates set about keeping the club alive. Not only did they start recruiting for their own team, which now regularly sees between 20 and 30 players involved, but they also started to work with other universities in the hope of getting a league set-up within the student game
“We have really come a long way in the last couple of years and it is a real achievement for us,” said 20-year-old Cross.
“It has been down to a lot of hard work from everyone involved in the team and the way we have organised the club.
“When we set out to recruit players, our committee put our minds to ways we could get people involved in Rugby League and the men’s team at the university shared some of their ideas as well.
“We had some help from the RFL who gave us flyers and posters to give out at our freshers fairs and we also had the Challenge Cup trophy there as well. When people see a trophy like that it makes the sport look very attractive and that helped get some girls interested.
“We have also been doing some work on getting a league set up, but at the moment it is only Liverpool John Moores that has a team. We helped them get their side off the ground. Again we went to their freshers fair to sign people up and have been working with them to get the right structures in place to keep the team going.
“We did have a team at Salford University but they merged with the union team after a couple of months so we are just going to approach things there in a different way to try and get that running again.
“At the moment we are playing our games against John Moores and local teams but we would love to get a Students league structure in place eventually because it is difficult for us to set up games and we will keep working towards getting there.”
While a league may be taking a bit of time to come to fruition, Cross, who is currently in her third year of studying chemistry, has at least 18 months at the University still ahead of her and she isn’t going to stop promoting female student Rugby League anytime soon.
“I am doing a Masters so I have another year at Liverpool after this one,” she explained.
“I am hoping to then continue studies at university level so I will still be able to be involved in what we have already started.
“I really want to develop this sport so I would like to further work with other universities to set up the game there so that all the girls involved have something to play for.
“Everyone in our team loves this sport and it’s such a shame that at the moment it’s just not that popular in universities, but we want to change that.
“We have seen the benefits Rugby League has given us and we want more people to be involved and enjoy those same benefits.”
Until such a time comes that Liverpool University’s Women Rugby League team are part of an official Student League, they will have to continue to fund their own transport costs and supply their own equipment.
Given what they are already doing for the game, it is perhaps no surprise that they are just as proactive in their much needed fund-raising.
As well as taking part in the Liverpool Half Marathon and the BTR 10K Tunnel Run later this year, the girls have also stripped off for a charity calendar.
Proceeds of the calendar will be split equally between the club and Joining Jack, a charity set up in honour of Jack Johnson, the young son of former Wigan player Andy Johnson, who suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy – a disease there is currently no cure for.
The calendar has so far proved a big success and Cross, who also plays as a forward or centre for the club, is delighted with how well it has gone.
“If we eventually get a league set up and become a part of BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport) then the University pays for our travel,” explained Cross.
“We do get a grant each year but that only covers a few matches and isn’t enough to sustain us all season and we have to fund the rest so any extra funds we can raise really is vital.
“Joining Jack is a charity that is in the heart of a lot of Rugby League fans and players, and we wanted to raise some money for them as well as the team.
“To begin with it was a little bit difficult to get everyone up for the calendar and there were a few that didn’t take part for various reasons. But most of us got involved and it was a good experience and good for team building. Knowing we were doing it for a good cause and promoting club it made all worthwhile.
“When we did it we got the Liverpool Echo to promote it for us and then the daily papers got in touch wanting to cover it. It has even gone worldwide with the story being published in places such as China and Hong Kong.
“We originally aimed to sell around 200 calendars and they all sold out so we printed about the same again and most of those have gone as well now.
“It is all good publicity for us, the charity and the students game and that can only help us grow it.”
The calendars are selling fast so anyone wanting to purchase a copy should visit uolwrlnakedcalendar.moonfruit.com
This article originally appeared in Rugby League World magazine, issue 406 (Feb 2015). Rugby League World covers Womens Rugby League every month.