Dave Craven - Women’s game can take a big step forward with BBC televising Challenge Cup final

THE women’s game will get unprecedented coverage when its Betfred Challenge Cup final is broadcast live on BBC 2 in a fortnight’s time.

Top class: Leeds Rhinos' Women's captain Courtney Hill is one of the best players in the Women's Super League. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire.

It is a wonderful achievement and a brilliant chance to showcase the sport to the sort of audience it could scarcely even contemplate a few years ago.

That the BBC wants to televise the final in such a way on one of its two main terrestrial channels says plenty about not just how highly they regard the women’s game but also how well it is developing.

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With the World Cup at the end of year, too, 2021 is fast turning into a time when women’s rugby league can really make its mark and lay some serious foundations for the future.

Rugby league needs to grow and the women’s game is clearly one area of substantial untapped potential.

Hopefully that can be mined in the weeks and months ahead.

However, for those yet to catch a game and perhaps wondering what all the fuss is about, today offers the perfect opportunity to get a taste of it all.

Both Challenge Cup semi-finals, in a double-header at York City Knights’ LNER Stadium, are being shown live on the BBC website and they promise to be intriguing affairs.

Champions: Rhinos women won the 2019 Super League Grand Final with Caitlin Beevers, left, Courtney Hill and Lois Forsell.

Just a few months ago, Castleford coach Lindsay Anfield, a revered figure in the women’s game, departed the club and, soon after, was installed as director of rugby at York.

The City Knights are not one of the most prominent clubs in Super League, and have struggled to reach the levels of Leeds Rhinos, St Helens and Castleford.

However, Anfield’s appointment has raised the bar – especially when five of her players from Tigers also then followed her to York.

That happened just a few weeks into the new season so was far from ideal for Castleford who – having seen their squad lose some key personnel in that fashion – may struggle against their former players in today’s opening semi-final (12.30pm).

However, it does show the ambition of York who have now recruited established England internationals and, having also made two signings from Bradford Bulls, will undoubtedly be looking to make some giant strides in the sport. There are some great stories currently around women’s rugby league, too, not least York’s own Ashleigh Hyde who returned to action with her club in March – just seven weeks after giving birth to her baby.

City Knights have produced some excellent promotional work on today’s game, including a polished video that not only highlights Hyde’s amazing feat but eludes to that rivalry with Castleford and reminds the York players to ‘dare to dream.’

After that, the leading clubs –Leeds and St Helens – meet up for a place in the June 5 final at Leigh Sports Village (3pm)

Leeds have won the last two finals, beating Castleford both times, and are also the reigning Super League champions, marking their defence with three wins from three outings so far.

Nevertheless, Saints have a similar pedigree and are also unbeaten this term.

These sides have reached the sort of consistent quality that all their rivals will aspire to.

News yesterday of the RFL’s decision to deny Castleford Tigers, Hull KR and Bradford Bulls Elite Academy status in the men’s game is a genuine concern.

The women’s game will have its own obstacles to overcome but it is taking the right steps and will hopefully seize this moment.

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