St Helens Rugby club will start paying their women's team for the first time

The team has won five major trophies since their formation in 2017. Credit: ITV Granada Reports

St Helens Rugby club will be paying their women's first team in the upcoming 2024 season for the first time.

Despite winning five major trophies since their formation in 2017, and supplying 11 players to England's last World Cup squad, they have never been paid for playing until now.

The team has lifted three consecutive Challenge Cup trophies from 2021 to 2023, while also winning the League Leaders' Shield and a Super League title in 2021.

Emily Rudge, second row for St Helens, believes this is an incredible moment for the development of women's rugby.

Former England Women’s captain Emily Rudge. Credit: ITV Granada Reports

She said: "I think we knew this moment was coming, we didn't know how long it'd take for women to finally get paid.

"But I think you know, as St Helens we've been on a journey, we've got to this point, and it's an incredible moment for us as players. We're really buzzing to get going with the season now."

Speaking about where they begun in 2017, Emily said: "We've played just out of local parks where there was broken glass, dog poo, you name it - it was covered the pitch. We'd line up as a team, walk the pitch before each game.

"So the contrast of that, to now playing in stadiums like this, playing at Wembley last year for the Challenge Cup. It's just such an incredible journey that the women's game has been on."

Tara Jones, the hooker for St Helens, started officiating the sport so she could stay within the game.

Tara Jones has also refereed in the Challenge Cup competition. Credit: ITV Granada Reports

She said: "I took other commitments in terms of officiating the game, purely so I could stay within the game and keep playing. There wasn't enough opportunities as a female, as a young girl playing the sport.

"So I thought I was going to have to quit playing because it wasn't enjoyable, there wasn't full teams for me to go play with.

"So I started officiating, but now to be at the point where we have full teams, we've got a Womens Super League that is being sponsored, you know we're playing at grounds like Totally Wicked, we're getting opportunities at Wembley.

"But now the announcement that we're going get paid to play the game as athletes is just phenomenal."

The season kicks off for St Helens women against London Broncos in the Betfred Challenge Cup at the Totally Wicked Stadium on 16 March.

Eamonn McManus, St Helens Chairman, says the women's game being a full-time professional sports needs to be an objective going forward.

He said: "It's impossible to put a definitive timeframe upon it, but it's certainly an objective of the game. It has to be an objective of the game. There are trailblazing clubs such as St Helens, Leeds, York in recent years.

"More and more clubs are taking it seriously and rightly so. The governing body itself really need to become much more seriously involved in terms of the funding of the women's sport.

"We're a social movement as much as we are a sport, and our girls are very much part of that."

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