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Leeds Rhinos’ head coach Lois Forsell ready for landmark year for women’s rugby league | Rugby League News

The best of the action from the Women's Super League Grand Final between Leeds Rhinos and York City Knights.

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The best of the action from the Women’s Super League Grand Final between Leeds Rhinos and York City Knights.

The best of the action from the Women’s Super League Grand Final between Leeds Rhinos and York City Knights.

With the excitement building for the return of the Women’s Super League, Leeds Rhinos head coach Lois Forsell is ready for her side to once again make their mark.

The Rhinos enter the competition as defending champions and, after a remarkable winter for women’s Rugby League, Forsell is ready for the game to continue growing and that starts with using the success of the World Cup to its advantage.

Post-World Cup fever: Capitalising on the tournament’s success

A Rugby League World Cup to remember thrust the women’s game into the international spotlight, with viewing figures into the millions and record attendances putting the tournament firmly on the map.

“I’m sure there’s young girls in the crowd who have been inspired who will go on and play and beat the Aussies and the Kiwis.”

Jodie Cunningham

England stars such as Jodie Cunningham, Emily Rudge, Tara-Jane Stanley and Amy Hardcastle inspired the next generation of players with their brilliant run to the semi-final and will now be looking to keep those fans engaged as the 2023 season gets underway.

“It is just about getting more people in watching the game,” said Forsell.

“The viewing figures were absolutely incredible for the World Cup and it was just so good to see people tuning in.

“I think that hopefully when we get those bigger games, we will see those viewing figures improve again and then it is just over to the clubs of how they can get more people in their stands and how they can attract people to watch the game.

“Improving the commercial viability of the sport is key and is the next step for the women’s game so we just need to get as many people watching it as we possibly can.”

The road to professionalism | Paying players a ‘step in the right direction’

While the women who play in the Women’s Super League are already training at a ‘professional’ level, they are yet to all be paid for their efforts, Leeds Rhinos and York Valkyrie becoming the first clubs to start paying players in 2023.

After England’s World Cup heartbreak against New Zealand, an emotional Cunningham continued to make the plea that professionalism in women’s rugby league is the answer.

Jodie Cunningham believes the future for English women's Rugby League lies in a path to professionalism

Jodie Cunningham believes the future for English women’s Rugby League lies in a path to professionalism

“We have clearly narrowed the gap and I genuinely believe that on another day we would have beaten New Zealand,” Cunningham said.

“We’ve done so much hard work without being professional and I still think we had the ability to do it without that.

“But you can’t avoid the difference it would make if we were semi-professional or professional players, because we’d have the time and resource and the ability to invest, and the attractiveness for young girls coming through.

“That has to be where the sport gets to, and hopefully people will have seen the journey we have been on without being professional and can imagine how good we’d be with it.”

For Forsell, her club’s decision to start paying players is a “step in the right direction” as women’s rugby league continues to expand.

“They all play sport because they want to be part of a team, first and foremost, and because they enjoy it,” added Forsell.

Watch Leeds Rhinos lift the Betfred Women's Super League trophy.

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Watch Leeds Rhinos lift the Betfred Women’s Super League trophy.

Watch Leeds Rhinos lift the Betfred Women’s Super League trophy.

“I think the overriding theme is the girls played it because they love it and that shouldn’t change. Our first aim at Leeds was to mitigate costs, so it shouldn’t cost girls to play.

“Paying the players is a step in the right direction because ultimately we want to make it professional and we want to make it an attractive sport and to do that you need the best performance on the field.

“To get that, on a par with other sports like rugby union and football, the girls are going to have to move into a more full-time environment.

“This year, the payment of players is not going to change their life but it is a step in the right direction of how we make the game more commercially viable and how we make a more full-time arena for the girls an option.

“Hopefully it is a nice bonus and they can see that this step is a much bigger picture in the framework and direction that we as a club, and hopefully the whole game, want to head.”

What to expect in 2023 | Can the Rhinos go back-to-back?

As the reigning champions, Forsell’s Leeds side know they will have some expectation on their shoulders as they get their campaign underway with a Grand Final replay against York Valkyrie, the likes of St Helens also wanting to lay their claim to the title.

That clash at Totally Wicked Stadium saw the Rhinos clinch their second BWSL title with a 12-4 victory over the newly renamed Valkyrie and it promises to be another hard-fought clash when the teams meet on Sunday April 9.

Whilst Forsell is excited for the showdown, she is more focused on making sure her side play with grit, determination and most of all pride.

“We just want to keep building. We’ve got the Grand Final and managed to achieve that so we have got our eyes set on the prizes that are at stake.

“I think you can’t look too far ahead because everyone who is in this competition wants to go and win.

“We will just try and be the best version of ourselves in every game.

“They will see an honest, gritty performance. They will see girls who are not afraid of putting themselves out there and have some great skills.

“Hopefully they will just see a team who want to play at every opportunity and will play with some pride in who they are playing for.”

Sky Sports is the home of all three Super League Grand Finals in 2023. The Men’s Grand Final, the Women’s Grand Final and the Wheelchair Grand Final will all be live on Sky Sports next season. The new Super League season starts on April 9.

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