|Coral Women’s Challenge Cup Final 2019|
|Venue: University of Bolton Stadium Date: Saturday, 27 July Kick-off: 11:15 BST|
|Coverage: Live on BBC red button and the BBC Sport website|
From buzzing about in helicopters to whizzing a short-pitched cricket ball at an unfortunate batter, the women of the 2019 Challenge Cup final have some stories to tell.
Not only are they high-class athletes, playing at the top of their game; these ladies have jobs. They juggle the pride of playing the sport they love with everyday life pressures.
This year Castleford and Leeds have the opportunity to show off their talents on the biggest stage yet, as part of a triple-header with the men’s semi-finals.
Meet just four of the 24 players bidding to lift the trophy at the University of Bolton Stadium on Saturday.
- The 16-year-old with a special cup final birthday present
- How the ‘Women of Steel’ is inspiring players of the future
- Watch the Women’s Challenge Cup final on the BBC
High-flying Garner no stranger to TV
If Castleford win and the on-pitch interviewers cut to a chat with Tigers half-back Claire Garner, then the voice might sound familiar.
Garner is part of the helicopter arm of the National Police Air Service, working as an observer and her West Yorkshire twang has featured on the Channel 5 show ‘Police Interceptors’.
From tracking potential criminals to guiding the Tigers around the park, there are plenty of skills relevant to both.
“It’s interesting, I get to see the world from above, and it pays the wages,” Garner told BBC Sport.
“It’s good for your decision-making, it really helps with that. A lot of the skills in my job can be transferred into this, it keeps me entertained.”
Garner already has a Challenge Cup winners medal from her time with Bradford and knows what to expect in terms of the big occasion.
Rather than nerves, there is an excitement about the prospect of showcasing the game in front of a new audience as part of the triple header.
“It’s just another game,” she said. “The more you think about it the more pressure you put on yourselves and the more anxious you get.
“If you keep a nice relaxed atmosphere and have a laugh, at the end of the day you will enjoy it.
“We don’t get paid to play rugby, we play to enjoy it, and that’s what we try to do, keep it at the forefront of all we do.”
From scrambled seams to goalline grubbers
Few athletes are able to reach the highest level in more than one sport, as Usain Bolt’s attempts to play professional football have shown.
Courtney Hill’s ability to excel at both cricket and rugby league is pretty remarkable and coincidentally, she and cricket-turned-tennis star Ashleigh Barty used to be teammates.
The 32-year-old Queenslander left her native Australia, where she had played in the Big Bash for Brisbane Heat, for the United Kingdom, and in turn swapped the cricket ball for the rugby one.
Her first season went like a dream. She won a Challenge Cup and reached a Grand Final with Leeds in 2018, and with injured regular skipper Lois Forsell out for this season, she has taken on the captaincy.
“I came from a sport like cricket where captaincy is a new level,” Hill said.
“You make a lot of very major decisions playing cricket, so when I was asked to do this, I don’t think the captaincy asks that much more of you.
“You run out first in the tunnel, but as a half-back regardless you need to show some leadership and game management. I’m learning a lot about leadership.”
Hill has not totally given up cricket, as she works as a coach to nurture others on the course of sport.
“I love the game, it’s given me a lot so now I’m just trying to give a bit back on the other side of the boundary ropes,” she continued.
“I’m trying to keep my cricket up. I really enjoy the opportunity to coach and that’s another sport that’s exciting to be a part of.
“It’s an exciting time for all women’s sport across the board. Football after the World Cup is picking up a wonderful momentum, cricket’s doing a great job and hopefully rugby league jumps on the back too.”
No work clash for Hoyle
There is nothing like a bit of moral support at work when you have spent the weekend being bashed about on a rugby pitch.
So it is a good job really that England and Castleford prop Shona Hoyle enjoys such backing from her work colleagues when she comes in with a forward’s obligatory bumps and bruises.
“I’m an education support worker at a school with autistic and challenging children,” she said.
“When I went to play for England in 2017 at the World Cup in Australia they all sponsored me, they’re really behind me playing rugby.
“I’ve got a really good team there, most of them used to play rugby. Ex-England and Leeds player Carl Gibson, he is always telling me I need to do this and that in this game. The kids love it.”
Hoyle’s excitement at being involved on Saturday is a reflection of the journey she has been on to get to this point.
She has played on a cold recreation grounds on rutted surfaces, and is relishing the prospect of a relative ‘bowling green’ at Bolton.
It will be a family affair too, as her nearest and dearest converge on the north west to cheer her on.
“My fella’s in the Army, he’s coming over Friday to get there on Saturday,” she added.
“My parents are really supportive, my mum used to play rugby with Lindsay (Anfield – head coach), so that’s how I got into it and even I played with Lindsay too.”
Beevers inspired by Sharpe progress
Caitlin Beevers might be about to play in a Challenge Cup final – and has already won one in her fledgling career – but she also has designs on refereeing one.
She has already become the first female to officiate at Wembley after she took charge of the Champion Schools precursor to last season’s final.
Now she wants to back up her on-field playing achievements, by emulating National Rugby League referee Belinda Sharpe and officiating in a top-level game.
Sharpe was the ruck referee in the two-referee-system NRL match between Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and Brisbane Broncos, the first time a female had taken up one of the main on-field roles.
“She goes to show how far I can go and how far other female officials can go,” Beevers said.
“We can look up to her and see that I want to be there one day and it’s been done so it’s possible to do.
“Hopefully it will not only open my eyes but a lot of female officials too.”
Beevers, still just 17, scored in the Rhinos’ 20-14 triumph against Castleford at Warrington in last season’s final, and backed that up with a stunning 90-metre solo score against St Helens in this year’s semi.
However, she believes it is the unbeaten Tigers who hold the advantage this time round, having beaten Leeds 27-0 in their previous meeting in 2019.
“We’re coming in as the underdogs, despite winning it last year,” she continued.
“I think for the women’s game it’s massive, it’s growing an growing and it’s a massive promotion.
“I feel it’s great for young girls to look at us as role models in women super league, we’re getting more noticed.
“This is a massive opportunity, especially with a massive support there, hopefully it’ll make a great experience out of it.”