Leeds Rhinos Women v Saints
St. Helens Women secured the 2023 Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup at Wembley Stadium by beating Leeds Rhinos 8-22, keeping the trophy at Saints for a third successive season!
History was already made as both sides taking to the field were the first ever Women’s Rugby League sides to grace the hallowed Wembley turf, the spiritual home of the Challenge Cup.
Chairman Eamonn McManus and Head Coach Matty Smith led out the team with captain Jodie Cunningham, and the occasion was one for every player to savour, soaking in the atmosphere and embracing the big stage that is the national stadium.
The Red V began with strong defensive intent, with Leeds getting the first major chance of the game. On our own line after Phoebe Hook fielded a high bomb but was tackled in-goal, Leeds hooker Jasmine Cudjoe went for a scoot but was held up strongly.
Ten minutes in and former Saint Amy Hardcastle broke the line and looked to be in for the opener if not for an outstanding tackle from Eboni Partington, with Saints scrambling Leeds coughed up the ball to end that threat.
Young Ruby Enright for Leeds knocked on after a Faye Gaskin kick, giving Saints their first major chance to score.
With Leeds camped on their own line, St. Helens hooker Tara Jones scooted from dummy half and grounded the ball for history! The first ever women’s rugby league try scored at Wembley and gave Saints the lead, with Amy Taylor adding the kick, 0-6, in what would be the start of a purple patch for Smith’s side.
Skipper Cunningham on the move passed a short ball to Emily Rudge who powered through the line. With Leeds on the back foot, Saints passed the ball beautifully with depth, Zoe Harris hitting Phoebe Hook on the wing who pinged her ears back in the final 25 metres to best her opposite number and then the fullback to score in the corner. A brilliant Saints score, which Amy Taylor strongly converted to from the sidelines, 0-12 with 15 minutes gone.
Running hot the Saints fired in quickly again, Cunningham engaging the Leeds middles before giving a drop off pass to prop Chantelle Crowl who steamed through. Crowl passed back to Cunningham for more pace, but the Saints captain was pulled down just five metres out. Jones spotted the numbers on the short side passing it to Taylor, and then Luci McColm with a delicate pass to Eboni Partington got Saints their third try, 0-16. Taylor could not add the kick from out side this time – with it bouncing off the crossbar!
Following some sets getting traded, the Rhinos struck back through Sophie Robinson, who got on the end of a Caitlin Beevers catch in the air and pass. Enright on kicking duties missed, 4-16, 25 minutes played.
As the rest of the first half played out, both sides had small chances, but just before the hooter Hanna Butcher from dummy half went to pinch one but after a video referee check it was not given.
Into the second half and the Rhinos got just the start they were looking for to get back in the game. Beevers made a break through the left edge against a retreating Red V defence, racing half the field to score two minutes after the break. Enright missed the kick, 8-16, but Saints would counter not long after.
Faye Gaskin as she did all match kicked well and with Leeds inside their own 30 she placed a chip into the corner for an on rushing Shona Hoyle. The forward collected the ball, fended off a number of Rhinos to bulldoze to the line and score. Taylor missed the kick, yielding the score 8-20, 48 minutes in.
Leeds desperately tried to get back in once more. A close chance on their right edge was stopped well by the Red V’s left edge as we headed into the final twenty.
Looking to further their lead the Saints with Leeds defending their own line gave away a penalty. A very late hit on Gaskin by Caitlin Casey gave Amy Taylor the chance to kick her third goal of the afternoon, which she did with aplomb. 8-22 the Red V led with 16 minutes remaining.
Calmly the Saints controlled the flow for the closing stages of the game. Senior players such as Gaskin, Cunningham and Crowl led from the front. Gaskin with her kicking into the right areas, Cunningham moving from loose forward to fullback due to Zoe Harris’ picking up an injury, and Crowl with strong tackling to stop Leeds in their own half.
As the clock ticked down, Matty Smith walked down the Wembley steps to embrace his staff and players on the sidelines. As the hooter went sheer joy was screamed out by the Saints as they all ran to embrace one another to celebrate.
St. Helens Women win the Women’s Challenge Cup for a third straight year in 2023, and become the first team to do so at Wembley Stadium!
St Helens Team
Starting 13: Zoe Harris, Phoebe Hook, Paige Travis, Luci McColm, Eboni Partington, Amy Taylor, Faye Gaskin, Chantelle Crowl, Tara Jones, Pippa Birchall, Shona Hoyle, Emily Rudge, Jodie Cunningham
Interchanges: Naomi Williams, Vicky Whitfield, Lucie Sams, Katie Mottershead
18th player: Rebecca Rotheram
Tries: Jones (12), Hook (14), Partington (17), Hoyle (46)
Conversions: Taylor 2/4
Penalties: Taylor 1/1
Leeds Rhinos Team
Starting 13: Ruby Enright, Sophie Nuttall, Hanna Butcher, Caitlin Beevers, Sophie Robinson, Caitlin Casey, Jenna Greening, Dannielle Anderson, Jasmine Cudjoe, Zoe Hornby, Lucy Murray, Amy Hardcastle, Bethan Dainton
Interchanges: Elle Frain, Eloise Hayward, Tara Moxon, Izzy Northrop
18th player: Bethany Lockwood
Tries: Robinson (28), Beevers (43)
Conversions: Enright 0/2