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Women's rugby league is expected to boom in Wales this summer

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Katie Carr believes the explosion of interest in women’s rugby union can help propel a similar boom in rugby league this summer.

The Wales international player is living proof that both sports can be enjoyed from the grassroots to elite level and that the old, bitter rivalries between the codes are a thing of the past.

Katie began her sporting season playing rugby union for Pontyclun Falcons and Cardiff Met and was also part of the Wales Development XV. But the 21-year-old is switching her attention this summer to rugby league and will play for both the Cardiff Demons and the Wales national team over the coming months.

The Demons play in tier two of the UK-wide Women’s Super League, while Wales begin their quest for World Cup qualification in the autumn, meaning that there’s plenty to be excited about for players and spectators at the higher level, but things are also opening up dramatically in women’s rugby league at the lower community club level too.

Dragons, Outlaws and Bulls

For the first time, the domestic structure in Wales has been organised to ensure six ‘derby days’ when three women’s teams – Cardiff Blue Dragons, the Rhondda Outlaws and the Bridgend Blue Bulls – will play their crunch matches as double headers alongside the existing men’s fixtures through June and July.

So, can rugby league ride the wave of interest that has surged in recent times for women’s rugby union, producing record crowds for Wales matches in this year’s Women’s Six Nations?

What does the 13-a-side game offer girls and women that the 15-a-side version does not?

And where are the opportunities for new players to try rugby league instead of rugby union, or like Katie, as well as rugby union?

“I think this will be the season when women’s rugby league really takes off at grassroots level,” says Katie, a student at Cardiff Met.

“The club structure has improved with these matches that have been arranged and having the three clubs in south Wales now means there are opportunities there for girls who want to try it.

“There are differences between the two games that a lot of people don’t really understand. You need to try rugby league to appreciate those differences, but you get the ball in your hands a lot more in rugby league and all the players are involved constantly.”

Katie began her rugby league journey playing for Bridgend Blue Bulls in her home town and alongside her twin sister Rosie, who joined her in becoming a Welsh international last year.

“I really enjoyed playing for Bridgend. The team and coaches allowed me to develop my understanding of the game and helped me grow as a player. I’m looking forward to supporting them this season.

“It’s a really friendly environment and I think all three clubs in Wales are really welcoming to people who want to go along and try the sport.”

Free-flowing and energetic 

The Wales women’s rugby league head coach is Tom Brindle who also works for the Rugby Football League as general manager for the Women’s Super League.

Responsible for the growth of women’s rugby league across the UK, he believes the sport offers something different to rugby union.

“There will always be a certain amount of crossover between rugby union and rugby league and we don’t see that as a conflict, but there are certain body types and skill-sets more suited to rugby league,” says Tom.

“Rugby league has a fast, free-flowing energetic side to it and ultimately you’re in motion more than in rugby union.

“In rugby league you have a set of six tackles in which to attack, which means you can be more fluent and attacking with the ball, but you also have to be more deliberate.

“The feedback we get from players is that in rugby league you get more opportunities on the ball and more occasions to attack than you do in rugby union and that’s why new players like it.”

Lowri Norkett on the attack for women’s rugby league team Cardiff Demons.
Lowri Norkett on the attack for women’s rugby league team Cardiff Demons. Photo: Dean Livingstone.
I think this will be the season when women’s rugby league really takes off at grassroots level. Having the three clubs in south Wales now means there are opportunities there for girls who want to try it.
Katie Carr

Tom describes the three clubs in Wales and their new fixtures as “foundation steps” for a sport still learning to find its feet in the women’s game.

But, in time, the hope is that girls have a range of options to try a broad mix of sports, so that opportunities to play rugby league are as plentiful as those to play rugby union, football, hockey or netball.

“Ultimately, that is the aim,” he says.

“It may take a while, but we are putting things in place in the sport to try and maximise our impact.”

Magic Weekend

One of those cornerstones has been Welsh participation in a schools tournaments that takes in the whole of the UK with high profile finals as part of the Super League’s Magic Weekend in Newcastle.

The Magic Weekend is the annual rugby league jamboree when an entire round of the men’s Super League is played at one venue across a whole weekend.

Last year, Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Glantaf in Cardiff became the first Welsh girls team to win a schools trophy after they beat Archbishop Sentamu Academy from Hull in the Year 9 final.

This year, the girls from Glantaf have battled their way through to the final again in the Year 10 competition, beating schools from the traditional rugby league heartlands of Lancashire and Yorkshire.

The Year 10 Girls Final will kick off Magic Weekend at 11:30am, before Salford Red Devils play Hull Kingston Rovers in the first Super League fixture of the weekend at 1.30pm.

Carr's in gear

At the other end of the scale, the international game – the showpiece for any sport – is also making good headway and the Wales women’s team, including the Carr sisters, face a busy few months.

Formed only four years ago, in September they host the Netherlands in their opening World Cup qualifier, with their second match – away to Greece – a month later.

Next year, they meet Turkey, the final team in their World Cup qualification group.

“We have got some big targets and we want to go and shock a few people,” says Tom.

“I think we have the talent to do that and now we need to build the narrative from the club game, building opportunities, building ambition, so that we can become the first Wales women’s team to reach a World Cup.”

That’s a goal for the players, too, says Katie.

“I think there is a clear pathway now from the club game to Super League, and on to the international game,” she says.

“I can’t wait to start the build-up to the Wales games. It’s going to be fantastic.

“But every sport needs to have strong roots and that’s what these club games in Wales this summer provide. They are three well-matched teams and they should provide great opportunities for all the players involved.”

Wales Rugby League – women’s club fixtures 2023

Saturday 10 June – Bridgend Blue Bulls vs Rhondda Outlaws (Pyle)

Saturday 17 June – Cardiff Blue Dragons vs Bridgend Blue Bulls (Sully)

Saturday 24 June – Cardiff Blue Dragons vs Rhondda Outlaws (Sully)

Saturday 8 July – Rhondda Outlaws vs Cardiff Blue Dragons (Glyncoch)

Saturday 15 July – Bridgend Blue Bulls vs Cardiff Blue Dragons (Pyle)

Saturday 29 July – Rhondda Outlaws vs Bridgend Blue Bulls (Glyncoch)

To get involved in any of the sides, email [javascript protected email address] 

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