GB Lionesses reunite to celebrate women in rugby league

Former GB Rugby League Lionesses from across Yorkshire and the North visited Parliament this week as part of the celebrations of this year’s Rugby League World Cup in October and November.

By Leanne Clarke
Thursday, 7th July 2022, 12:52 pm

They were supported by Castleford's Jackie Sheldon who was assistant coach to the Lionesses in 1996 when they beat Australia on their first international tour.

Jackie became Head Coach to the Lionesses on four international competitions between 1998 and 2003.

The Lionesses were 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.

Castleford's Jackie Sheldon was assistant coach to the Lionesses in 1996 when they beat Australia on their first international tour. (photo Simon Wilkinson)

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.

Jackie, who has worked tirelessly to increase participation in sport and recreation for women and girls, said: “Rugby League is a community game – it unites people."

“Featherstone, where I grew up, was a town built around a mine and Featherstone Rovers.

“Women didn’t really play Rugby League, in those days, so it’s wonderful to be here and see this incredible exhibition, which acknowledges all our hard work and achievements.”

Former rugby league referee Julia Lee, former Lioness Kirsty Robinson, international coach Jackie Sheldon and former Lioness Rebecca Stevens with the World Cup trophies. (Photo: Simon Wilkinson)

The ‘Life with the Lionesses’ project is led by Julia Lee, one of the first women 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.

Julia, who has spent many years working to get the role of women in Rugby League recognised, said: “It was lovely to be a guest of the All Parliamentary Group, part of the RLWC2021 celebrations, seeing former Lionesses engaging with their local MPs and sharing their stories.

“The historic tours have paved the way for future internationals. Showing this exhibition in such a prestigious location elevates the achievements of those women and gives them much deserved recognition.”

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.

Activities will focus around Sheffield, Huddersfield, Hull, Leeds, St Helens, Wakefield, Warrington, Wigan and York.

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

For further information contact Julia Lee on [email protected]