'It's our time now': York Valkyrie ready to take next step by winning Women's Super League Grand Final
York have enjoyed a remarkable transformation since finishing second from bottom in 2019 with just one win from 13 games.
The turnaround began after Anfield joined as director of women’s rugby in 2021 following a successful spell as Castleford Tigers head coach.
The North Yorkshire club made a raft of high-profile signings and have not looked back on or off the field since.
After getting a taste of both major finals in recent years, Anfield believes the back-to-back League Leaders' Shield winners are ready to take the next step in a home Grand Final against familiar foes Leeds Rhinos.
"This year feels a bit different," she said.
"We've played a lot of games at Headingley and St Helens so to finally have one on our home ground is great for us.
"We do feel comfortable here but we're not complacent as to what Leeds can bring. They've picked up steam as the season has gone on and have turned over St Helens twice now. The close game two weeks ago (in the semi-finals) will stand them in real good stead in terms of intensity.
"We've got to take strength and courage from the fact that we're here – and have played really well here all season. It's our time now."
The Valkyrie won nine of their 10 games during the regular season, the exception a draw against Leeds in the last meeting between the sides at the LNER Community Stadium.
York saw off the challenge of Wigan Warriors in the semi-finals before the Rhinos claimed a dramatic golden-point win at Saints to set up a Grand Final rematch.
The 12-4 defeat in last year's St Helens decider is fuelling York's motivation.
"One hundred per cent," said Anfield.
"Losing a Grand Final makes for a really tough off-season because you've ruined your chances and are going over the games a million times. By the time you get to pre-season, all you're thinking about is getting to the next Grand Final and putting things straight.
"That's what we've tried to do right from day one in January. Now we're here we've just got to make sure we take our opportunities and go all the way.
"I don't think anyone would have expected how this season has gone. In the off-season, Leeds were definitely the dominant force with the signings and what they were trying to do.
"We kept a low profile. Sade Rihari was our main signing from Salford but we just tried to go about our business quietly. Luckily, we've gone under the radar and got ourselves to a Grand Final which we're really pleased about."
The women's game is growing in popularity in York with a record Grand Final crowd expected this Sunday, eclipsing the 4,235 attendance for the Headingley decider in 2021.
More tickets were released on Thursday morning for a double-header that will kick off with the promotion final between Barrow Raiders and Leigh Leopards.
Anfield is excited by the thought of claiming the Super League trophy on home soil.
"It'd be so special," she said.
"I came here two and a half years ago and the stadium had just been built and the women's team wasn't doing particularly well. To build from that and now have a secure fanbase, a foundation, a RISE programme with 14s, 16s and the under-19s, and now the women's team being on this big stage on the BBC and Sky Sports, it's hopefully transformed the way women's sport is looked at in York and given some good role models to the young girls.
"All the stands are lined after a game with kids wanting autographs. We've definitely picked up traction in the local area which is all you can want."
Since the 2020 campaign was wiped out by Covid, only York, Leeds and St Helens have featured in the six major finals.
Anfield views York's challenging semi-final against Wigan as evidence that the big three's rivals are catching up as Super League prepares to expand to a single eight-team competition from 2024.
"Some people said it was going to be a blow-away result but we knew it wasn't going to be because they picked up steam as the season went on and are getting better and better," she added. "Next year no doubt they'll be better again.
"Huddersfield are trying their hardest to recruit some good players for next year so they'll be in there. There are two coming up (from Group Two) as well.
"I'm hoping the gap between the top three and the rest does start to close because you need a competitive competition for people to be interested in it and don't want just three teams. I'm looking forward to that."