Published: 27th March 2020
Words: Lorraine Marsden from Total RL
When Super League first introduced the mid-season split in 2015 it was met with very mixed reactions.
Some fans loved it, others disliked the complicated and unplanned nature it brought to the second half of the season, others simply got on and accepted the format.
Whichever camp you fell into at the time, it didn’t last, and the Super 8s format was dropped in 2018 after four seasons.
But now it’s making a comeback in the Women’s game and one club couldn’t be happier about it. In fact, Huddersfield Giants have even confirmed that the mid-season split was one of the reasons behind them agreeing to join an expanded Super League in 2020.
Ten teams will now make up Super League, and with fears of a gulf between the more established clubs in the top half of Super League and those at the bottom, the decision has been made to split the league in two in mid-July when all 10 teams have played each other once.
The top four will then contest the Betfred Women’s Super League Playoffs – playing each other home and away to provide another six fixtures – with the top two qualifying for the Grand Final at Emerald Headingley on Sunday, October 11, as part of a double-header with the newly introduced Betfred Women’s Super League Shield.
The Shield will be played for by the bottom six teams after the split, and they will play each other once more to provide another five fixtures, leading to semi-finals and the subsequent final.
For any club going up into the top division, the transition is going to be hard, but for a club in just their third season with a relatively young squad, the Giants, who finished fourth in the Championship last season, are certainly going to face their biggest challenge yet. And it’s one everyone involved is ready for.
“Super League is going to be very tough indeed and we are under no illusions how difficult it will be,” admitted James Westerby, head of Women and Girls Rugby at the Giants.
“That’s the challenge though for us as a group of players and staff.
“I’m a firm believer that in order to develop yourself as a player you need to challenge yourself by playing at the highest level possible. As well as developing their skills at the highest level, one of the main aspects that our group of players will develop this season is resilience.
“There are going to be times when they’re going to have to get up, dust themselves down and go again and that can be hard for young players.
“We need to find our feet at this level and the introduction of the mid-season split was one of the major factors in accepting our position in Super League.
“I didn’t want our group of young players to be getting heavily beaten week in week out. Nobody learns from that and it does nothing to promote the women’s game and the Women’s Super League.
“The idea that the season splits after the first round is something we welcome.
“We have three pre-season friendlies planned, with two of these against Super League opposition. We felt it vital to play Super League opposition so we can gauge where we are as a group.
“We still have a very young squad with our average age being only 20. Only five players of our 25-woman squad are over the age of 25.
“We see the next couple of years as development and not result orientated. Obviously, everyone likes to win but we are more concerned with the development of our players from a skill and mental point of view.
“For us, a reasonable expectation this year is that we compete and never give in. I want to see that resilience.
“We will give it our best shot and see where that leaves us.
“I want the group of players to enjoy the experience too and in years to come, I want them to look back and see how valuable a lesson it was.
“But obviously, a couple of wins would be nice.”
The progress made by the Giants over the last couple of years is reflective of the massive strides taken by the women’s game in the same period.
No one can see this more than Westerby who, as well as overseeing the Giants women’s team, works in secondary schools and in the community to coach and develop the girl’s game by creating pathways and competitions for them.
“It’s been a dramatic rise for our club over the last two years. We had one year as an under 19s side and then moved up and had a year in the Championship last season,” added Westerby, who will be working alongside head coach Ryan White and assistant Chris Smith.
“There’s been a lot of hard work from both the players and staff over this period and it’s a credit to them that we are now getting the chance in Super League.
“The Super League name in the women’s game was only endorsed in 2017. Since then we have record numbers of girls playing in the community game and in Super League. We have girls playing in schools who have never had the opportunity to play the game before. We now have pathways right from school to Super League squads. The progress in playing opportunities and media exposure has given women and girls the idea that yes, they can play the game. The barriers to playing are being torn down.
“We have girls who have been coached by current Super League players and now they’re going to be playing against them. Something they probably didn’t think would ever happen, but it goes to show if you put your mind to it and commit to it then you get the results you deserve. There will no doubt be nerves but we will keep reminding them to enjoy the experiences.
“After all, enjoyment is why we’re all involved in the game.”