On January 16 2020, the Women’s Sport Trust launched a campaign that will involve 40 of Britain’s most successful and driven female athletes. The campaign is named ‘Unlocked’ due to the belief that women’s sport needs to be unlocked faster with more impatience and greater ambition.
Amongst the 40 athletes was England and Leeds Rhinos Rugby League player Caitlin Beevers, who was instrumental in the Rhinos double winning campaign in 2019. The Grand Final, in which she played against Castleford Tigers, landed on her 18th birthday. She then flew out to Australia the following day to play for England in the Women’s World Cup 9s in Sydney. To top off a great year, she was also shortlisted for the BBC’s Young Sports Personality of the Year. Reflecting on the progress of the women’s game she told us, “There are so many more opportunities now for young girls in rugby league, from playing to officiating. With the women’s game growing year on year and the 2021 World Cup fast approaching, it’s great that young girls now have female role models to aspire to, unlike when I was younger, the only people I could really look up to were men in Super League.”
If we take a closer look at the career of the Rhinos fullback, we see that it’s a journey girls in Oxfordshire have the opportunity to emulate if they wish. She began playing the game at seven years old, the age at which coaching company Radical Rugby start their delivery in some of the counties primary schools. The Levellers also offer training sessions for girls aged 7 to 14 and have Oxford Brookes student and coach Lauren Cheyne as their inspiration, so there is an opportunity to develop the interest further outside of school.
Caitlin was the star of the show in the 2017 National Schools Girls Year 11 Final, where she scored an extraordinary 38 points a year after scoring four tries in the Year 10 Girls Final. This is a competition that Bartholomew School and St Birinus have qualified for in recent years; Bartholomew competed in the U15s Regional Final in January 2017, whilst St Birinus U16 boys lost out to Brigshaw, East Leeds in the last 16 in January 2020. Finally, Caitlin is also a qualified referee and started her officiating journey at the age of 13. In 2018 she became the first woman to referee a rugby league game at Wembley, where she took charge of the Year 7 boys National Schools Final prior to the Challenge Cup. Radical Rugby currently delivers primary touch rugby festivals alongside Oxfordshire secondary schools and they provide opportunities for young sports leaders to follow officiating pathways run by the RFL if they so wish.
As things appear to be going in the right direction, it’s important to recognise there’s still much more to do as inactivity remains a huge concern for public health in the UK. In Oxfordshire, half of children are not meeting national recommendations for physical activity. Added to this is Sport England’s Active Lives Adults Survey released in November 2019 which showed that 26.9% of the population in West Oxfordshire were inactive during the period May 2018 to May 2019, an increase of 4% on the previous year. If self-consciousness about your body type is holding you back from trying rugby league, then take some inspiration from Caitlin. “I don’t have the stereotypical physique of a rugby player,” she said proudly, “it just goes to show that your size doesn’t necessarily matter. As long as you have the commitment and desire to give your all for your teammates – that’s more important.”
The West Oxfordshire Levellers are certainly looking to add to the momentum and excitement surrounding the women’s game. The Women’s Super League was launched by the Rugby Football League (RFL) back in 2017 when Bradford Bulls, Castleford Tigers, Featherstone Rovers and Thatto Heath Crusaders became the four founding clubs. Fast-forward three years to 2020 and the league now has 10 teams for the season ahead. They gained their first title sponsors in Betfred and there’s also coverage of games on Sky Sports and the free Our League App with the first fixture scheduled for Sunday 29 March between champions Leeds Rhinos and Bradford Bulls. The target for the RFL is 21,000 women and girls playing rugby by 2021, the year that sees England host the Women’s Rugby League World Cup alongside the Men’s and Wheelchair competitions, with every match being broadcast live on the BBC. With the game being viewed by a new audience it is certainly conceivable to think that Oxfordshire can contribute to the 21,000 target by 2021, and it is Radical Rugby and the Levellers that will look to do just that.