Former Lioness joins celebrations of this year's Rugby League World Cup

Former Lioness joins celebrations of this year's Rugby League World Cup

By Admin | 28/07/2022

Former Lioness joins celebrations of this year's Rugby League World Cup
Alexander Stafford, MP for Rother Valley, with former Rugby League Lioness Rebecca Stevens at the Life with the Lionesses exhibition.

FORMER GB Rugby League Lionesses visited Parliament as part of the celebrations of this year's Rugby League World Cup in October and November.

They were joined by Rebecca Stevens, who played Rugby League at international level including the 1998 tour to New Zealand, the UK World Series in 2000 and the 2002 tour to Australia.

Rebecca lives between Rotherham and Sheffield.

The Lionesses had been reunited through 'Life with the Lionesses', a heritage project which aims to raise awareness of the incredible role models who pioneered Women's International Rugby League in the 1990s and 2000s.   

The event, which was held at Portcullis House, included opportunities to view World Cup trophies, see an exhibition showcasing the pioneers of women's international Rugby League and hear from some of the trailblazers, past and present, of the game.

"It's been a fantastic opportunity for us to look back and acknowledge what we have achieved," said Rebecca, who is now a Barrister.

"I'm really grateful to be part of it and we have paved the way for other women and girls to get the recognition they deserve."

Rebecca didn't come from a rugby league back ground but when a friend introduced her to the game, she fell in love with it, especially the physicality.  

"We trained at Hillsborough Park and we were involved with the Sheffield Eagles men's team. I started with the women's team aged 15 but we were finding it difficult to recruit in a very football-dominated city."

Rebecca was a forward renowned for her commitment to training. She got a call from Jackie Sheldon to play for GB for the 1998 tour to New Zealand when she was around 20. 

"We had to do an enormous amount to raise funds in order to go on the tours," she said.

"I remember going round all sorts of games, rattling buckets, begging for any spare change to get us to New Zealand. Lots of people were supportive and it raised awareness at the men's games. If ever I see anyone holding a bucket these days I always put money in!"

Training was tough and Rebecca was a student at the time, studying law at the University of Leeds.  

"It was quite difficult for me," she said. "I was suddenly playing and training with these women who I really revered. But they were fantastic with me.  Being on tour with a national team was really special. I loved New Zealand and it was amazing to be part of that.

"My family and friends were ecstatic. My dad was one of my biggest supporters but my mum hated it because she was so worried about me getting hurt!"

Left to right: Former RL referee Julia Smith, former Lioness Kirsty Robinson, international coach Jackie Sheldon and former Lioness Rebecca Stevens.

Prior to the 2000 tour, Rebecca had a serious injury, having torn the cruciate ligament in her left knee and there wasn't enough time to have an operation before the tour. She decided to just get rehabilitation and managed to play with a heavily strapped knee.

In 2002 she went off to Australia. She had been called to the Bar in 1999 and her job as a criminal barrister was very intense on top of the demands of the training.

"Clients were quite impressed when I turned up with a black eye from training," she said.  "I even got to a point where I thought about dropping out.  But I'm so glad I didn't because I loved it!

"This whole experience has really allowed me to look back and appreciate what we achieved as a team. Hopefully this will lead to a more level playing field with the men, where women can have a career in ruby league."

The 'Life with the Lionesses' project is led by Julia Lee, the first woman to referee men's Rugby League in the 1980s.

It aims to engage with the wider community, both inside and outside of Rugby League, and to deliver a programme of activities that will celebrate the history of the women's game.

In addition it will showcase the achievements of women involved in Rugby League and use the stories of rugby's women pioneers to inspire new generations.

Stories collected during the course of the Life with the Lionesses project are being used as part of an exhibition which will tour to 10 venues across the North of England.  

They are also being shared on social media, as part of the Women in Rugby League archive at Heritage Quays at the University of Huddersfield and on a dedicated website.

The project, which runs over the next 12 months, is working alongside Rugby League Cares, the Rugby Football League, the Rugby League World Cup 2021 and Heritage Quay at the University of Huddersfield to build a permanent public archive.  

'Life with the Lionesses' was awarded funding by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.  

For further information contact Julia Lee on Julia.lee@csi2012.co.uk
 

 

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