As we approach the 150th anniversary date of the founding of St.Helens Rugby Football Club on the 19th of November 1873, the Club is taking a varied and closer look at just some of the storied history of the Saints.
For Day 3 of our 15 days for #Saints150, the Club takes a look at the three-in-a-row Women’s Challenge Cup winners – St.Helens Women.
It was announced in November 2017, that St.Helens R.F.C. would form a Women’s team to feature in the newly formed Women’s Super League from the 2018 season, and what a six years it has been.
The Saints announced our first five signings in January 2018 and they were; Tara Jones, Emily Rudge, Faye Gaskin, Katie-May Williams and Dawn Akrigg as the first player the first to sign up. Jones would later be announced as the first captain of our women’s team, whilst Mark Brennan was also named as the first St Helens Women Head Coach.
Craig Richards was also announced as Women’s Head of Rugby ahead of the inaugural season for the side, a role he still holds to this day.
A month later, Saints confirmed seven more signings. Isabelle Rudge, Charlotte Hill, Sarah Lovejoy, Carys Marsh, Pip Birchall, Naomi Williams and Jade Ward. Chantelle Crowl then also signed up to join the Red V as well, and like most of the others who had joined the club, joined from local club Thatto Heath Crusaders.
On Thursday 8th March 2018, Saints’ first ever fixture list came out for fans to see. Saints would feature in twelve games, plus the Challenge Cup ties.
Shortly before the opening game, Saints announced the landmark signing of Roxy Murdoch-Masila, the wife of St. George Illawarra Dragons’ Ben Murdoch-Masila, who played for Salford Red Devils and Warrington Wolves whilst playing in England.
Future Saints & England captain Jodie Cunningham also joined the club in 2018, but was limited to making appearances in our final two matches in the first year due to an injury picked up on England duty in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
Saints played their first ever Women’s Super League fixture against York City Knights as Ruskin Drive on 15th April 2018, winning the game 40-0, starting their inaugural season with a big win. The Red V won eight of their twelve games in that first season, whilst also earning a draw at Castleford. The side suffered a 10-6 Semi-Final defeat to rivals Wigan Warriors though, ending their season early.
Meanwhile, in the Challenge Cup, our Women faced Hull FC in the last 16 at the Totally Wicked Stadium, winning 78-0, but our run came to the end in the Semi-Final though as Castleford won 30-16 in Yorkshire.
Derek Hardman was announced as the new Head Coach ahead of 2019, following Mark Brennan’s departure.
Saints announced the Women’s Heritage Numbers ahead of the 2019 season. This allowed any player that has made an appearance for the Club to be recognised for wearing our shirt.
Included in the 2019 fixtures were Wakefield Trinity after being added to the league for the season.
Saints avenged their defeat to Wigan at the end of the 2018 season, with a 4-6 opening day victory over the Warriors at Robin Park Arena. That marked our first ever derby day victory!
Saints made it to the latter rounds of both the league and cup competitions, winning eleven of our fourteen WSL games that season, whilst also claiming a hard-fought draw against the Rhinos.
Meanwhile, in the Challenge Cup, Saints breezed past Stanningley in the Quarter-Finals, winning 0-96 in Yorkshire.
Saints were beaten narrowly by Leeds Rhinos in both Semi-Finals, as the double winners that year stopped Saints short. With the Betfred Women’s Super League Grand Final being held at the Totally Wicked Stadium that year, it made it even tougher for the Saints to miss out on a home Grand Final.
Just one week before the 2020 season got underway, the global pandemic Covid-19 hit, halting all sporting activities.
It was officially announced that there would be no games that season in August 2020, meaning the players would have to wait until 2021 to get back playing the famous Red Vee kit.
Saints had announced the signing of Amy Hardcastle from Bradford Bulls ahead of the 2020 season, while Army Sargent, Carrie Roberts also joined the Saints, a few months into the pandemic.
The 2021 season is the most successful year any club has had in the Women’s Super League era to date. The Saints claimed a historic treble that year, winning every game that we played in – a feat that is yet to be matched by another side.
Saints announced the signing of Rachael Woosey, who also played for Sale Sharks, ahead of the new campaign.
A 12-20 victory over Leeds Rhinos at the LNER Community Stadium earned Saints a spot in their first ever Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup Final. Derek Hardman’s women faced York City Knights in the final at Leigh Sports Village and put in a dominant performance to claim their first ever piece of silverware, beating the Yorkshire side 34-6 to win the Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup!
A second piece of silverware soon followed, the League Leaders’ Shield following a 52-0 derby day victory over Wigan towards the end of September.
In the league semi-finals Saints faced Castleford Tigers at the Totally Wicked Stadium, knowing a win would see them progress to the Grand Final at Headingley and the Saints won the game 58-0.
Just before the Grand Final, Saints’ Jodie Cunningham was named the club’s first-ever Woman of Steel winner, and only the third winner of the award since it’s introduction in 2018.
The Grand Final took place on Sunday 10th October, as Saints nilled the Rhinos on their home ground 0-28, to claim their first ever Betfred Women’s Super League title!
Derek Hardman’s side entered the 2022 season with a target on their back, following their history making 2021 season. The Saints again reached the Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup Final, and beat Leeds Rhinos 16-8 at Elland Road, to claim the trophy for the second successive year.
The other two trophies headed elsewhere however, York Valkyrie claimed the League Leaders’ Shield, as Saints missed out despite taking it to the final day of the season. The Red V then suffered a 14-6 Semi-Final defeat to Leeds at Headingley, which brought their season to an end and once again meant they missed out on a home Grand Final at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
Saints had eleven English representatives at the delayed 2021 Rugby League World Cup. Jodie Cunningham, Emily Rudge, Tara Jones, Leah Burke, Paige Travis, Vicky Whitfield, Zoe Harris, Amy Hardcastle, Carrie Roberts, Beth Stott and Shona Hoyle all featured.
Women’s Head of Rugby, Craig Richards and Head Coach, Derek Hardman were also both on the England Women coaching staff.
It was announced ahead of the 2023 season, that former Saints Player, Matty Smith would become the new Head Coach of the St Helens Women team, replacing Derek Hardman who moved onto become the Reserves Head Coach at St.Helens.
Saints also announced the departure of England International Amy Hardcastle ahead of the season, with several names also choosing to retire from the sport in what was expected to be a transition year.
In the Club’s 150th anniversary year, the women’s side continued to make history. A last minute Faye Gaskin drop-goal earned the Saints a 17-16 victory over York Valkyrie at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, making them the first ever side to reach a Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup Final at Wembley. It was incredibly sweet too for Gaskin to send the team to the national stadium, having had injury difficulties following the 2021 Cup Final match.
A truly special day in the capital saw the Saints emerge as strong 8-22 victors over Leeds Rhinos, making it three Challenge Cup wins in a row for the three-peat!
Saints finished the regular season in second place, earning them a home Semi-Final against the Rhinos at the Totally Wicked Stadium, but it wasn’t to be for the Red V, as despite taking Leeds to golden point extra-time, lost 16-20 in heartbreaking, late fashion.