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Jodie Cunningham keen to take women’s RL to the next level ahead of England test

The recently-crowned Woman of Steel spoke passionately about inspiring youngsters to follow in her team’s footsteps as women’s rugby league continues to grow at a rapid rate

Jodie Cunningham takes on the Welsh defence for England earlier this year

When Super League’s top female player Jodie Cunningham gave a stirring interview after helping St Helens to an historic treble, one of her first thoughts was for the next generation of girls.

The recently-crowned Woman of Steel spoke passionately about inspiring youngsters to follow in her team’s footsteps as women’s rugby league continues to grow at a rapid rate.

Cunningham’s career has run parallel with progress that has taken the sport from amateur fields to Super League stadiums and TV exposure. On Saturday she will run out for England against France live on the BBC, and sees it as another crucial step in the development of the women’s game.

Cunningham explained: “We all have an added role to play, not just performing on the pitch, but to set the path for the next generation of female players. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunities I’ve had since I started playing at 12 at school – it’s given me so much. But I’m also excited by the growth that we’ve seen over the last couple of years and the opportunities that young girls now will have.



Cunningham dives over for a stunning solo try in the Grand Final win over Leeds
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Image:

PA)




“We’re the first ones to get that media exposure and the opportunity to play on Sky and the BBC. That brings added pressure because we need to make sure we perform for the benefit of the women’s game and all the girls coming through. Hopefully there will be young girls watching that are picking up rugby balls after we’ve hung up our boots.

“We’re seeing more than ever that lots of young girls come to watch the games and have the women’s names on the back of their shirts. Yes we’re not professional at the moment or are being paid to be there, but there’s a great support system in place for players, and I think that’s attracted a lot of girls from other sports to rugby league.”

Cunningham – who is a Rugby League World Cup ambassador and helps oversee the delivery of the ground-breaking Ahead of the Game mental health programme funded by the competition – will again have a familiar face alongside her at weekend. Best friend Emily Rudge is a Saints team-mate and the national skipper, with the pair’s history going back over a decade.



Cunningham was this year crowned Women of Steel in Super League
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Image:

Will Palmer/SWpix.com)




Cunningham added: “We went to high school together, were in the same class and were best mates from the word go. She had been the only girl in a boys team growing up and loved it, but at 11 you have to go into a girls team.

“It all seems like fate now, but the year we started high school was the first one the Champions School competition that has created so many Super League players started a girls version. I’d never been into rugby league but had tried pretty much everything else, and Emily convinced me.

“We’ve lifted pretty much every trophy together and this amazing ride I’ve had has been twice as good being able to do it alongside my best mate.”



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