Five rugby league stalwarts – three of them from Huddersfield – have been recognised for their outstanding contribution to the game.
The Rugby Football League (RFL) is celebrating half a century of members of the sport’s Roll of Honour – which was introduced in 2003 to recognise individuals who have made extraordinary contributions on and off the field.
This year’s Roll of Honour sees a deliberate attempt to correct a previous lack of recognition of women’s contribution to Rugby League over the last 127 years.
Julia Lee, a former RL referee from Huddersfield, is joined on the Roll of Honour by Sue Taylor, also from Huddersfield, an unsung hero of community Rugby League; Jackie Sheldon, a former coach and women’s RL development officer from Castleford; trailblazing sports journalist Julie Stott, who cut her teeth in Kirklees at the Dewsbury Reporter; and RL writer Ian Laybourn, originally from Batley but now living in Holmfirth, the long-serving and hugely-respected Rugby League correspondent of the Press Association.
This will bring the total number of names on the RFL Roll of Honour to 50. Everyone has been recognised for their pioneering contribution across Rugby League through recent decades – whether in refereeing, campaigning, coaching, journalism or administration and volunteering with a specific focus on the community game.
Julia Lee, began refereeing at the age of 17 and was the first woman to referee men’s Rugby League in the 1980s, in either code, in UK and Australia.
She had 15 years’ experience as a match official reaching professional and international honours and became the RFL’s director of community projects and events.
More recently she moved into consultancy, advocating for women’s involvement in Rugby League, and documenting its history through a Heritage Lottery project, ‘Life with the Lionesses.’
After being brought up on Rugby League in Huddersfield, Sue Taylor (main image, top) has remained closely involved in and dedicated to the sport, largely through the community game.
She became treasurer and secretary of the Huddersfield Amateur League and the first female chair of the British Amateur Rugby League Association (BARLA) in 2013.
She met her husband, John, through the Underbank club in Holmfirth, one of a number she has served as secretary, also including St Josephs and Newsome Magpies, now known as the Panthers – having been a leading figure in the foundation of the latter in 1989.
Earlier this year she was appointed as vice-president of the RFL, working alongside Clare Balding CBE – an honorary position she will hold for 18 months, until December 2023.
Jackie Sheldon was the first woman to gain the RFL’s Level 4 Coaching Certificate in the mid-1990s, and was a driving force behind the groundbreaking Ashes tour of 1996.
She led Great Britain on a number of southern hemisphere tours, including the 2000 World Series and the 2003 World Cup. She was also the sport’s first Women’s Rugby League Development Officer.
Julie Stott first covered RL for the Dewsbury Reporter. She relished the opportunity of covering the Seoul Olympics for Athletics Weekly, was the first woman editor of football’s Match magazine and, over the years established herself as a Rugby League specialist for The Sport, The Sun, the News of the World, and the Daily Star and its sister publications the Mirror, the Express, their Sunday titles and the Sunday People.
She will sign off this autumn after covering her sixth Rugby League World Cup having joined every southern hemisphere tour since 2006.
Press Association journalists have their reports syndicated to national newspapers without a byline so Ian Laybourn’s name is probably less well-known.
However, after more than two decades of service with the national news agency, he’s a respected figure in the sport.
He started out at the Dewsbury Reporter before moving to the Huddersfield Daily Examiner.
He will officially retire after the Rugby League World Cup, having delayed that plan by 12 months when the tournament was postponed last year.
RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer said: “As Rugby League celebrates a World Cup it is fitting that we provide overdue recognition of the contribution women have made to the sport, on and off the field.
“It is a pleasure and an honour to congratulate Julia, Jackie, Julie and Sue – and also Ian Laybourn, who has covered the sport with diligence, wisdom and care for almost five decades.”
The ‘Pride of the Lionesses’ event, to recognise women who have made outstanding contributions to Rugby League, will be held at Headingley Stadium on Wednesday November 9.
Around 400 people are expected to attend the event which will honour over 100 former GB and England Lionesses, who played in the 1990s and early 2000s. They will receive their caps and heritage numbers for the very first time.
The dinner will be supported by two women who have also been pioneers in televised sport, in general, and Rugby League in particular – Clare Balding CBE and Tanya Arnold.
Tickets cost £50 and include a two-course meal, overlooking the iconic Headingley Stadium, and a match day ticket for both Canada v Brazil at 5pm and England v Papua New Guinea at 7.30pm. To book your ticket contact email@example.com or call 07740634082.