England and Brazil's Amazonas serve up historic Rugby League World Cup treat at Headingley
History was within touching distance for a woman who had barely played rugby two years ago, resplendent in the yellow shirt that has bewitched and beguiled international sport for decades, the country that gave the world Pele, Zico and other such iconic figures.
Momberg hadn’t even touched the ball down when she was mobbed by her team-mates, some of them running from the other side of the field to share in the historic moment for rugby league in their country.
That it made the score 44-4 in England’s favour midway through the second half mattered little.
Just ask the hundreds of schoolchildren from Leeds and the surrounding area that swelled the attendance for this groundbreaking women’s World Cup double-header, who got to their feet to applaud, the significance of the moment not lost on anyone.
For this women’s World Cup is about more than results.
It is about growing the women’s game globally.
It is about building on the success of football’s Lionesses, showing young girls and even young women that there is a sporting avenue for them besides football.
It is about equal appearance fees and prize money for the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments.
It is about moments like the Brazilian women’s team doing slides of joy in front of their small cohort of fans after losing 72-4 in their first ever World Cup game, and only their third ever international.
Event organisers deserve enormous praise for their vision in bringing all three tournaments together under one umbrella.
Their hope before kick-off that the opening double-header at the rugby cathedral of Headingley would attract a crowd of 16,000 and break the attendance record for a women’s rugby game of either code in this country was a little off the mark.
But no one should be lambasted for wishful thinking, and a crowd of 8,621 is still a record in the UK for rugby league and a hugely encouraging start for the women’s tournament.
As much as there is a duty to grow the game for players and organisers alike, and as much as Momberg’s try for Brazil’s Amazona’s was uplifting – ‘I told my players at half-time I wanted to see someone’s face on the big screen,’ said their captain Maria Graf afterwards – first and foremost it is about winning.
To that end England showed little regard for their opponents’ comparative inexperience, racking up 14 tries in a convincing 72-4 victory.
England’s players are hardly seasoned professionals themselves.
At the last women’s World Cup played in this country nine years ago they had to pay to play for their country.
Five years ago in Australia some of the players had to take unpaid leave from work to represent England for free, so appearance money this time round is a sign that strides are being made.
St Helens’ Amy Hardcastle has played in all three of those World Cups, scoring two tries at Headingley on Tuesday.
“It’s so overwhelming, the pride we all felt today,” said England’s rampaging centre.
“The support we received from schools was unlike anything we’ve ever played in front of before.
“It’s hard to come away from them when they’re wanting pictures taking at the end.”
Already the impact of the World Cup is being felt on the domestic game with Leeds Rhinos, not even one of the four founding teams in the first Women’s Super League as recently as 2017, announcing just this weekend that they would be giving their players win bonuses and incentives in the 2023 campaign.
Small steps, and a long way to go, but steps in the right direction nonetheless.
There were four Rhinos players in the England team that played on home soil; Courtney Winfield-Hill, who scored a hat-trick of tries, Caitlin Beevers, who added a brace, teenager Fran Goldthorp and Georgia Roche.
York City Knights had four representatives; Tara Jane Stanley who scored two tries and converted eight of the 14 scores, Olivia Wood and Grace Field who added a score apiece, and Hollie-Mae Dodd.
That quartet’s home ground of the LNER Stadium plays host to another double-header on Wednesday, one which features the pre-tournament favourites Australia and New Zealand. Women’s rugby is professional Down Under, meaning the gap between England and the two southern hemisphere superpowers could be as sizeable as that between England and Brazil.
But as was seen at Headingley on Tuesday afternoon, the gaps in women’s rugby league are closing.