‘Life with the Lionesses’, a heritage project which aims to raise awareness of the incredible role models who pioneered Women’s International Rugby League, is appealing for your stories.

Whether you were an international player, a coach, team manager or off field supporter, the project aims to record your experiences and share them with the wider Rugby League community in the run up to the Rugby League World Cup in October.

‘Life with the Lionesses’ is led by Julia Lee from Huddersfield, one of the first women to referee men’s Rugby League in the 1980s. The project aims to engage with the wider community, both inside and outside of Rugby League, 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: “We are already in touch with some of the Lionesses and they are so excited to be sharing their stories of playing Rugby League.

“For some of them it was easily the best time of their lives and it gives them a tremendous sense of achievement to know that people want to hear what they have to say.

“Everybody has a story to tell and this project is already building an archive of fascinating memorabilia and anecdotes surrounding the game.  It is also giving the Lionesses an opportunity to reconnect with past friends and relive their amazing achievements.

“Through this project we can ensure that the history of women in Rugby League is not lost and also uncover stories as yet still untold.”

Julia Lee at Heritage Quay with some of the RL memorabilia

Individual stories collected during the course of the project will be used as part of a touring exhibition, on social media, as part of a Women in Rugby League archive and on a dedicated website.

Former Lionesses, including coach and player Brenda Dobek, team manager Nikki Carter, players Lisa McIntosh, Sam McLean (née Bailey), Donna Parker, Rebecca Stevens and Gemma Walsh, recently attended a Rugby League Lions luncheon in Bradford for a reunion and swapped memories of the game.   

Sam, who represented her country in the early 2000s, was keen to inspire the next generation of women players.

“Just be yourself and enjoy every moment of it,” she said. “Recognise where you are and what you are doing and make the most of that opportunity. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.  Just go out there and do what you love.”

The project, which runs over the next 12 months, will work alongside Rugby League Cares, the Rugby Football League and Heritage Quay at the University of Huddersfield to build a permanent public archive. Activities will focus around Castleford, Featherstone, 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 Julia.lee@csi2012.co.uk