York Valkyrie star Lacey Owen on full-time dream and inspiring next generation
From working a full-time job and training part-time to running out on a weekend and playing a vital role in growing the game, the demands are exacting.
York Valkyrie star Lacey Owen made light of her schedule to enjoy a dream 2023 season and has the potential to take her game to even greater heights after recently becoming one of the first players in the country to be awarded a professional contract.
The Valkyrie, who have since made the entire squad professional, will still operate as a part-time club but the players have genuine hope in their bid to become fully fledged athletes.
"It would be nice to be full-time and be able to recover after a game instead of going into work on a Monday still hobbling about," Owen told The Yorkshire Post.
"It can be really draining because you can leave the house at 7.30am on a training day and not get in while 9pm, if not after.
"It is worthwhile. If we can achieve all that while we're still working, imagine what we could do if we were part-time at work and part-time at rugby or didn't have to work and had a full-time rugby league contract.
"I think we'd see a real difference between part-time and full-time athletes.
"The sport isn't quite there yet. It's great that we've been able to sign these contracts. It's a step forward and putting things in place for the younger generation.
"I'd love it to be there now but hopefully I will be able to cut down my work hours in a couple of years' time."
Owen helped York claim a Super League double in 2023, scoring the clinching try in the Grand Final win over Leeds Rhinos.
When she isn't scoring tries on the big stage, Owen is teaching children and running rugby teams at Castleford Academy.
Only 23 herself, Owen is having an immeasurable impact on the next generation in her hometown.
"Going back into work on Monday (after the England game) was a bit like, 'Right, I'm back to reality now'," she said with a smile.
"But it's nice because all the kids will ask me about it. All the girls that play rugby will always ask me questions on what they can do to improve.
"It's nice for them to have me as their role model and it's nice to be that person as well. I don't take it lightly and really appreciate that they appreciate me.
"There's so much more interest and so many more schools around the Wakefield area now wanting to participate in girls rugby league.
"It's nice to see the numbers increasing because I went to the same school and there wasn't the same level of interest."
Owen is still pinching herself after running out at Headingley with an England badge on her chest.
The reaction to her debut reinforced her belief that the women's game is on the right track.
"When I play I put my phone on 'do not disturb'," she added.
"I came back in the changing room to text my little sister after the game and had all these messages and hundreds of people had followed me on social media.
"If England share something about it, it doesn't die down and comes back up again.
"It's quite nice to see that people are watching and following."
The game against Wales was played in front of a bumper crowd at what is widely regarded as the best rugby league stadium in the country, a far cry from Owen's early years in the sport.
With her best years still ahead of her, the back-rower is hoping to be on the journey all the way through to a full-time Super League.
"When I first started playing under Lindsay (Anfield, current York boss) I was only 16," said Owen, who joined the Valkyrie from Castleford Tigers in the middle of last year.
"I'd just left school and didn't have a community club to go to so went straight to open age. We were playing on random fields then but now it's real professional.
"We're able to turn up, play and don't have to do anything other than focus on the rugby, whereas we used to have to do everything in terms of getting your own sponsors and stuff like that.
"I'm still really young and lucky that I'll get to see the development from the start of Women's Super League through the years.
"I don't think I'll be quitting anytime soon."
The contracts awarded by York are made up of base salaries, a range of performance-related bonuses and also include maternity leave support and NRLW player options.
After taking the next step in her career, Owen is open to the idea of following the likes of Georgia Roche and Hollie-Mae Dodd to Australia.
"We obviously finished this season on a high winning the League Leaders' Shield and Grand Final," said Owen.
"To then get the privilege of getting a contract at the end of it just shows that it does pay off if you work hard.
"To be scouted for an NRL team would be a massive thing for me. I think that's the dream for anybody who wants to be playing at that level.
"I look up to the women who play in the NRL because they are incredible. To get the chance to play at that level is something I'd really like to do.
"I'll see where the future takes me."