Courtney Winfield-Hill’s rugby league odyssey: ‘I’m all-in for England and Leeds now’ | women’s rugby league
Kevin Sinfield has left an indelible mark on English rugby league during his playing career, but if Leeds Rhinos lift the Women’s Challenge Cup on Saturday and England follow suit at the Rugby World Cup this autumn, a conversation Sinfield had three years ago no doubt played a role.
It was at the end of 2019 when Courtney Winfield-Hill considered ending her tenure as one of the trailblazing stars of the Women’s Super League and potentially returning to the sport where she initially made a name for herself at her in Australia. A former Big Bash League star, Winfield-Hill wondered if now was the right time to pursue a career in cricket again. “The financial rewards were much higher, getting a contract to play cricket in England, but what Kevin said just kept eating at me,” says Winfield-Hill.
Sinfield, who was then working for the Rhinos in an off-field role, politely reminded her that if she kept playing in the league long enough, she would eventually qualify for England under the club’s five-year residency rule. sport. “Kevin had spent a lot of time with me, working on my game and he wanted to know what was next,” she reveals. “I was ready to try and get a cricket deal for sure at this stage, but he planted the seed of England, and that got me thinking.”
Fast forward to the present day, and a lot has changed. Winfield-Hill has married longtime partner England cricket international Lauren Winfield-Hill and the postponement of the World Cup to this autumn has opened the door for the Leeds Rhinos star to potentially represent England into the tournament after officially qualifying in February. She was almost immediately named to Craig Richards’ practice squad.
That’s no surprise, given Winfield-Hill’s undeniable talent. But before all that there is the prospect of the Rhinos trying to reclaim the Women’s Challenge Cup in front of a home crowd on Saturday at Elland Road when they take on St Helens. The match is part of a triple-header with the two men’s Challenge Cup semi-finals and after spending most of the past two years on hiatus due to Covid-19, Winfield-Hill has no doubts on the importance of Saturday’s game for both. Leeds and the wider women’s game.
“We had tremendous momentum in 2020, great media exposure and it was incredibly disheartening to see the 2020 season canceled completely,” she admits. “With this triple header, I hope there are plenty of rugby league fans who have never attended a women’s game and that we can put on a show for them.”
The game will be shown live on the BBC, another milestone for the growth of women’s football following the advent of the Women’s Super League in 2018. “It’s great that the BBC is providing free coverage and a real platform.” she says. “The continued growth of women’s football depends on it, and it’s the start of a great year with a World Cup just around the corner. Winning at Leeds, for Leeds, would be one of the most special moments of my career.”
But much like the rest of the rugby league public, Winfield-Hill is struggling not to have at least one eye on this year’s World Cup. “If someone had told me five years ago that I would potentially be playing for England against Australia, I would have questioned their sanity,” laughs the 35-year-old. “But I’m all-in for England no matter what. The way the rugby league community welcomed me here meant it was an easy opportunity to say yes and stay in the league. rugby.
Leeds’ chances of success on Saturday, and even England’s later this year, are much better with Winfield-Hill still in the sport. She has been one of the standout players in women’s football despite not having played since junior level before moving to England with Lauren in 2018. “Australia will always be home in some ways, but right now Leeds is at home and England is at home,” she said.
How would she cope with the prospect of a World Cup final between England and Australia? “I would love that,” she said. “I was obviously quietly hoping that England would win; well, not gently, very loudly, because I hope to play! I undertake to deliver for England and Leeds for as long as possible. When Kevin spoke to me three years ago I wasn’t sure what direction my future in rugby league would take, but staying here, being part of something historic for the club and now maybe also for the country, I think I made the right decision.