Women’s Super League returns to the relief of York City Knights and Leeds Rhinos

HAVING waited so long for the return of Betfred Women’s Super League, York City Knights’ Mary Tiplady admitted the result of their opening game almost became immaterial.

Good to be back: Mary Tiplady waited 555 days to play for York City Knights...before suffering a head injury on Sunday and needing to be replaced after 25 minutes. (Picture: Ed Sykes/SWPix.com)
Good to be back: Mary Tiplady waited 555 days to play for York City Knights...before suffering a head injury on Sunday and needing to be replaced after 25 minutes. (Picture: Ed Sykes/SWPix.com)

They were one of eight clubs to start the 2021 season on Sunday – having seen the entire 2020 campaign wiped out by coronavirus.

It had been 555 days since the competition’s last fixture, Leeds Rhinos memorably beating Castleford Tigers in the 2019 Grand Final to complete an historic double having already lifted the Challenge Cup.

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For all those countless players left unable to take to the field since, due to the pandemic, it has been a difficult time but a wait of more than 18 months was finally ended at the weekend.

York who joined the Women’s Super League a year after its formation in 2017, had the most onerous task: facing the champions.

They were duly defeated 
68-16 by Rhinos in a behind-closed-doors double-header at Weetwood in Leeds that also saw Castleford Tigers vanquish Featherstone Rovers 40-6.

Long-serving stand-off Tiplady, who has represented York for more than a decade, told The Yorkshire Post: “Everyone was just really excited to be back on the pitch. It has been so long since we were last able to play just a game of rugby that I think everyone who was playing – across Women’s Super League – was just so happy to be back.

“We went into lockdown a week before the season was due to start last year; our last game was in 2019. That’s how long.

Leeds Rhinos' Zoe Hornby up against York City Knights (Picture: Ed Sykes/SWPiix.com)

“But during that time we trained and kept our fitness, either individually or with one or two Zoom sessions per week to make sure the girls retained that bond we had, without being actually able to see each other.

“A lot of people have actually become a lot fitter and stronger; everyone has used what they can to try and turn it into a positive for when it actually started.

“On Sunday, with the new restrictions, it meant we had less time to warm-up and prepare.

“But sometimes that can be an advantage as you’re just clocked on straight away. And we were so happy to be out there, anyway.”

Leeds Rhinos' Adaoha Akiwiwu scores a try (Picture: Ed Sykes/SWPiix.com)

York were certainly immediately “clocked on” as they actually took a lead against the champions with tries from Ellie Hendry and Katie Langgton.

However, Leeds fought back to lead 24-10 at half-time and, with reigning Woman of Steel Courtney Winfield-Hill a key influence, scored 44 points in a one-sided second period.

Ironically, after such a long wait to play, the afternoon did not end well for Tiplady who had to be replaced due to a head injury.

The 26-year-old, who hails from New Earswick in York, explained: “With all the progression of how serious head injuries need to be taken, it meant I had to come off and wasn’t allowed to continue playing.

Leeds Rhinos assistant coaches David Gibbons and Anthony Gibbons talk to their players (Picture: Ed Sykes/SWPiix.com)

“But it was heartbreaking. I’m not going to lie. It was awful to then have to sit on the sidelines for more than half of the game watching everyone else play.

“There’d only been about 25 minutes gone. But we’ve got Wakefield in the first round of the Challenge Cup this weekend, so hopefully I’ll be okay for that.”

In other games, Warrington Wolves – one of two newcomers this season along with Huddersfield Giants – were beaten 52-8 by Wigan Warriors while Bradford Bulls were demolished 86-0 by St Helens.

It is a big year for the women’s game with the Rugby League World Cup at the end of it where York’s LNER Community Stadium will host eight fixtures including both semi-finals.

Tiplady, who started playing in the Minster City when she was 14 and now works for an insurance company, said: “From where the sport was ten years ago to where it is now is just absolutely phenomenal. And the pace it’s moving at at the moment it’s only going to get better and better. The World Cup is hugely important.

“We have such a strong sense of community within rugby league in York anyway, with how the men are doing and the investment into the new stadium.

“Having some of the RLWC2021 games at the new stadium will just bring more and more people into the sport.

“Whether that’s watching the men and then wanting to watch the women, or the wheelchair, or if someone’s always wanted to try it and now have that boost of knowing they can go watch a game to see what it’s like.

“If they want to be involved they have a women’s team in Super League in York that has potential and investment to help people grow.

“It’s just going to be outstanding for rugby league and York.”

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