Huddersfield Giants Women captain Bethan Oates says women’s rugby league has come a long way – but there’s still much further to go.
Oates, 27, has been at the Giants for five years but only got into the sport aged 19. She joined amateur side Thornhill Trojans but after playing for a while she dropped out of the sport thinking it wasn’t for her.
However, when she was 22 she saw an opportunity to join the Giants on a trial day and, in her own words, hasn’t looked back since.
On why she enjoys playing so much, Oates said: “I am a tackling machine! I love to get stuck in. I love the challenge of the sport and my life revolves around work, family and rugby.”
Rugby league wasn’t Oates’ first love – it was Muay Thai. sometimes referred to as Thai boxing. It’s a combat sport that originated in Thailand and is a variation on martial arts. Oates represented Great Britain in the discipline and took part from the age of 11 to 15.
Oates said: “I used to love Muay Thai. I really got into it and was good at it. I won a cup whilst fighting for Great Britain which was ace. I lost a fight when I was 15 and from then on couldn’t get back into it.”
Oates went on to play rugby league and the 2021 Rugby League World Cup threw a spotlight on women’s RL and the media was keen to promote it too.
Leeds Rhinos made history by becoming the first club to make a payment to its women players and York made a similar pledge.
The growth of the game has already been felt beyond the Women’s Super League too, with a 200% rise in new teams and participation numbers for girls under 16 since the World Cup across the country.
That will mean more player depth in the next World Cup in France in 2025. At present, there is a clear gulf between Leeds, York and St Helens to the other three sides in Super League 1, and although Oates is pleased to see women now getting paid to play, it has never been a motivation for her.
She said: “The fact Leeds and York can pay players is great. Obviously clubs are looking at taking the sport more seriously and that can only be a good thing.
“At the moment there is a big divide in quality because the best players are going to those teams who can pay wages but hopefully the rest of the sport will catch up soon.
“I have played at the Giants five years. I don’t play for the money, it’s not my driving factor. Don’t get me wrong, it would be nice and it’s talked about by the players but my answer has always been that you are playing the sport because you love it.
“We’ve seen how the women’s game has grown in football and that has been very fast. Rugby league is taking longer but I think there are a few factors in that.
“One is that the sport doesn’t have the money to push the game on. It doesn’t have it in the men’s game to push forward never mind the women’s game.
“Also there isn’t the professional nature to the women’s game yet. I still work in the leisure industry and so have a full-time job, and although I feel that the game has come a long way, it can go a lot further too.”
On what she hopes the team can achieve this season she added: “Results have improved over the last two seasons. Things got quite depressing last year as we got beat heavily a number of times and it was very frustrating.
“Every season I have been here we have had a change of team so hopefully this season will be different and we can keep hold of our better players and build something.
“We just want to improve on our position year after year and get better. We have a young squad so hopefully they’ll continue to improve and those results get closer.”