Australia-born Courtney Winfield-Hill is the standout inclusion in the England women’s squad for this autumn’s Rugby League World Cup. Winfield-Hill, who moved to England in 2018 with her wife, the England cricketer Lauren Winfield-Hill, was playing cricket herself in Australia’s Big Bash League as recently as five years ago.
However, after establishing herself as one of the premier talents in the Women’s Super League since joining Leeds Rhinos, Winfield-Hill will realise her goal of playing in a World Cup after declaring her allegiance for England at the beginning of this year. The 35-year-old half-back is one of four winners of the Woman of Steel award to make Craig Richards’ 24-player squad that will attempt to win the World Cup for the first time.
Winfield-Hill is joined by recently crowned 2022 winner Tara Jane-Stanley of York, as well as St Helens’ Jodie Cunningham and Leeds’ Georgia Roche. There are seven members of the Leeds squad who won the Women’s Super League earlier this month included, with Winfield-Hill and Roche set to continue their partnership at half-back at international level after an impressive season domestically with the Rhinos.
Newcastle-born Zoe Hornby is the sole uncapped player in the squad, while Richards has named 11 players from the Challenge Cup winners, St Helens. They include the captain, Emily Rudge, who is one of four survivors from the last England squad that played in a World Cup on home soil nine years ago. In stark contrast to 2013 though, when the women’s World Cup was played months before the men’s event in crowds in the low hundreds, this year’s tournament will run alongside both the men’s and wheelchair events, with bumper attendances expected.
England will begin their campaign this year against Brazil on Tuesday 1 November at Headingley in a game that is expected to attract close to 20,000 supporters. They will then face Canada at Wigan’s DW Stadium on Saturday 5 November before a final group stage fixture back in Leeds against Papua New Guinea on Wednesday 9 November and Richards is hopeful that the size of the opportunity at hand can result in a seismic shift in the fortunes of women’s rugby league.
“We’ve got girls who are still travelling across the country and earning nothing,” he said. “We’ve got mothers, girls who’ve been working in frontline jobs during the pandemic … we ask a lot of them. Hopefully we can go out there, put a great show on and do it as great ambassadors in order to get more money into the game and give the girls what they deserve, which is great financial support.”
The tournament has been dominated by Australia’s Jillaroos, who have won the last two World Cups in 2013 and 2017. But Richards believes he has a squad capable of winning the tournament for the first time. “We can win it,” he said. “There’s a couple of nations in there where we’ll have to be at our best. But we are incredibly confident in this group of players and what they can do.”