Ahead of Friday’s international rugby league clash between England Women and Wales Women, live on Sky Sports, we hear from England’s Jodie Cunningham on aims for Friday, World Cup hopes and growth in the women’s game…
Friday’s clash at Warrington Wolves’ Halliwell Jones Stadium comes just less than five months before the start of the 2021 Women’s World Cup, and is also the first ever official Test for Wales. The Test is live on Sky Sports Arena, Mix and Main Event, from 5.30pm.
The growth of the women’s game in rugby league is one of continual assessment. Where does Cunningham feel the women’s game is at?
“It’s outstanding how much the women’s game has grown since the last World Cup in 2017,” Cunningham told Sky Sports, speaking as a guest on this week’s Golden Point podcast.
“There’s just been a huge spike in every area in the sense of the number of teams, numbers of girls taking part, of women trying the sport for the first time, but then also that media coverage and that profile has grown exponentially.
“2019 was a really big year. We had the Grand Final on Sky for the first time, and that was a huge moment for all the girls who took part in that game, but also everyone across the board thought: ‘Wow, this is a real shift.’
“Obviously last year we didn’t have the season, but again we’ve still built on that and I don’t think we’ve lost any momentum coming into 2021.”
“Friday is something I never thought would happen when I first took up the sport. Having the opportunity to represent my country at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, in my hometown, where all my family are able to get tickets and come and watch.
“It’s a really big moment for me personally.”
England Women vs Wales Women
June 25, 2021, 5:30pm
What are Cunningham’s aims going into Friday’s Test? And why should people tune in to watch?
“Friday for us, or it is for me, is about changing people’s perceptions about where England Women are in terms of the international game,” Cunningham added.
“Because, I think people often doubt whether we have the potential to win that World Cup, and I want to prove on Friday that actually we are a top quality international side and this is why you should get behind us at the World Cup later this year.
“We genuinely have an opportunity to win the World Cup on home soil.
“So many more people this year have watched women’s rugby league in some form: Super League, Challenge Cup etc, for the first time.
“And every single one has been amazed by the quality of it, so 1) we’ll shock you, wherever you think the standard is, we’ll better that for a start.
“And 2) I always think with the women’s game, yes it’s rugby league so if you’re a rugby league fan you’ll enjoy it, but equally it’s different to the men’s game. It’s that raw version of rugby league.
“When we’re talking about the men’s as a war of attrition and there’s a lot of wrestle in it, the women’s is more so like the version of 30 years ago where you’ll see a lot more long range efforts, individual and solo tries, and going the full length.
“That’s what you can expect on Friday, I’ve got no doubts.”
In terms of speaking about England having the potential to win the World Cup, what sort of work have Cunningham and England put in to try to accomplish that goal?
“A lot of the work we’re doing around what it would take to win a World Cup is around the science and the data.
“That’s an area where I think England are in a better position than they’ve ever been before, because of the support staff we’ve got.
“We’ve got amazing strength and conditioners, who have been looking at what is the most intense one minute of an international game, what is the most intense 10-minute period, and how we replicate that on a regular basis so the girls condition to that.
“We do it regularly in training, where at the end of training we have these horrible three-minute games where we think about how many metres you need to cover, and we make it that intense for three minutes on, three minutes off and then three minutes on again.
“And that’s what we’re all measured against. We have GPS data at every training session and at all the games, and after Challenge Cup finals, semi-finals, we’ve looked at the England players and what sort of metres they’re covering and how that compares to a Test match.
“That’s where we are at the minute, and we’ll get that data from an actual Test game on Friday and hopefully we’ll be getting those metres up. All the girls know where they need to be.
“Finally we’re recognising that you can’t take those rest periods, you’ve got to be working all the time to hit those numbers.
“I’m excited and it’s something I’m conscious about when I’m putting my GPS data in – I need to make sure I’m hitting the numbers.
“It’s good and it makes the girls competitive as well. We get the data published after every training session, and you can see everyone looking at who hit the highest metres, who the fastest was, who had the most acceleration efforts. All the information is there.”
For Cunningham and England, what does a good performance against Wales on Friday in Warrington look like?
“A good performance from us on Friday, and from the coaching staff’s perspective, will be the little things we’ve been working on in training and are we doing those regularly in the game.
“Are we the first to any scraps that hit the floor? Are we making our shape and getting the depth we’ve been getting in training?
“I don’t think we’ve got a score-line in mind, that’s not something we’re looking at.
“If we stick to our processes, work on the things we have been doing in training, turn up for each other, and remain calm, talking and people doing their roles, that is what we want from Friday.
“I think the result will come off the back of that if we do those things well.
“Personally, defence is something that I pride myself on and take pride in the teams I’m part of as well, so for me I want to keep them as low down on the points as possible. If we can get a Nil, I’d be really happy with that.
“I know how hard it is in a World Cup. I know much Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea throw at you in a World Cup game. So if you can defend, you’ve only got to score a try.
“So my focus is making sure the defence is absolutely solid.”
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