York City Knights chairman Jon Flatman believes that the Women’s Super League will only continue to grow in popularity – and he wants to make sure his club is along for the ride.
In 2019, York finished second from bottom in Super League and won just one of their 13 games.
They also endured the biggest defeat by any side in the competition. However, 2021 – after no competitive women’s rugby was played in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic – saw a remarkable turnaround in the Knights’ fortunes
Greater investment, high-profile signings and the addition of top-quality backroom staff saw York reach the Challenge Cup final and Super League play-offs.
The turnaround began after Lindsay Anfield joined the club as director of women’s rugby.
The former England international was previously head coach at Castleford Tigers Women and led them to the League Leaders’ Shield and Women’s Super League Grand Final in 2019, as well as back-to-back Challenge Cup Final appearances.
Former Leeds Rhinos player Adam Cuthbertson also joined the club as head of performance.
It has been a year of further growth for the women’s game, something York have been at the heart of with major finals showcased on BBC and Sky Sports.
“It is clear that the women’s game is an area of growth for the sport over the next few years,” said Flatman.
“It was the coming together of the perfect storm as we had the expertise of Lindsay become available. There was a general willingness from sponsors and club partners and the impact has been sensational.”
He continued: “We are very fortunate to have someone like Lindsay who is able to successfully drive that programme and there are a lot of people who assist her in making that all happen. There is a real opportunity, in what are very difficult times, to create something of huge value.
“It has a very, very positive future and in addition, it is managed and administered very well by the RFL. It is a worthwhile competition to be a part of and it is one that will only continue to grow.”
Savannah Andrade was one player who opted to make the switch to York after being presented with the club’s vision.
She was part Bradford Bulls’ 2017 ‘invincible’ season which saw them go an entire year unbeaten to win the Challenge Cup and Grand Final.
Her move to York in May happened on the same day six other players – her Bulls team-mate Olivia Wood along with five ex-Castleford Tigers players in Rhiannion Marshall, Kelsey Gentles, Tamzin Renouf, Grace Field and Sinead Peach – joined.
“Since being at York, I have had more publicity than any other team. That is really good, there is great support,” said Andrade, who was named Supporters Players of the Year at the club’s annual awards.
“The facilities at York are the best I have ever played at, it is an amazing team and I am glad to be a part of it. It has been an amazing opportunity.”
Andrade’s successful season at York also saw her return to the England set-up, as she earned her first cap in a Test against France.
“It has been such a good season for me, getting back into the England programme and getting my first cap,” she added.
“I would not have expected that after the first two games I played at Bradford when we were losing quite heavily. I am so glad the opportunity came at York, it came at the perfect time.”
The arrival of the likes of Andrade has made York one of the major players in the Women’s Super League.
The league has been split into two divisions of six for 2022, with York the only side in the top six whose male counterparts do not play in Super League.
Anfield, the aforementioned director of women’s rugby, now wants to create a more sustainable model of success as she plans to develop the club’s youth set-up.
“In the next few years, we need to have sustainable options so we are working with the club to create those pathways,” she said.
“We want to start generating some Under-16s and some Under-18s and we are also running a scouting combine on Sunday.
“We are going to run some skills and testing to see if there is anybody out there, possibly someone from a different sport who is suitable to rugby league.”