Ladies latest: Knights eye Challenge Shield success
By Oli Breslin
York City Knights Ladies have been boosted by the return of five key players ahead of next Sunday’s Challenge Shield Final against Army Ladies.
Sam Boyes, Kay Rollinson, Hayley Worthington and Gemma Kay are all in contention for Sunday’s game at Heworth ARLFC after overcoming injuries.
Scrum-half Katie Langan is also available for the Summer Merit League leaders after missing the 18-all draw away to Huddersfield Ladies earlier this month due to off-field commitments.
Natalie Sleightholme is also pushing for a place in coach Daryl North’s squad.
However, former York City Knights under-21 star North is not underestimating the challenge that Sunday’s opponents will pose; “The final will be very tough, we are all aware of this. They [Army Ladies] will be very tough, strong and well-conditioned. I know rugby league is a very big thing in the army at the moment so they will be training very hard as they will really want to win.”
York City Knights Ladies have lost just once this season – 16-8 in the County Cup against Premier Division leaders Castleford Ladies, a display that North described as his side’s ‘best performance of the season so far;’ and he believes that a repeat of that effort is required in order for his side to lift the Shield; “We really want to win, but to do so we will have to replicate our performance against Castleford to ensure we get the trophy.”
North, in his first season as coach, spoke of his pride for his team reaching the final and the positive impact the achievement will have on women’s rugby in the city; “It’s great that they have made the final, it shows that all their hard work is paying off. I personally think that this is brilliant for women’s rugby in York, hopefully they will get the recognition they deserve and have a big following on the day.”
It is the first season that the city’s ladies team have operated under the guise of the City Knights, and North says his side are taking inspiration from the successful season their male counterparts are having; “They are trying to replicate the men’s team great season and hopefully they will win the cup and finish top of the merit league and do the Knights proud.”
Captain Carly Hilton praised her side’s efforts this campaign, and spoke of her pride at reaching the Shield final; “I’m so proud to lead the team out this Sunday in the final, We have really struggled with injuries throughout the season so to be doing so well in the Merit League and get to the Challenge Shield final is a massive achievement for the team.”
However, the prop-forward reiterated how stern a test Sunday’s opponents will provide and admitted that a recent scouting trip may lead to a change of tactics for the big game; “The final will be a tough one; a few of us players went to watch the army a few weeks ago and the style they have shows it will be a tough game. After seeing how they play we’ve had to change our game plan a little, but I’m positive my team can handle that.”
Hilton also hopes that reaching the final will have a lasting positive impact women’s rugby in York and help to bolster the profile of York City Knights Ladies in the future; “Since we have moved over to York City Knights Ladies we have gained so much more support, hopefully it will get a few ladies interested in playing too so we can build on our squad; we have had a bit of interest from a few young girls the last few weeks so it is already having an impact. We already have two 16-year-olds in our squad that are doing very well but I’m hoping for a few more to add to it.”
Army Ladies defeated Batley Ladies 18-12 in the semi-final and have had limited training time in the run-up to the final.
“We are very proud to have reached the final,” said Army Ladies coach Chris Abel. “For a team that only trains and plays once a month it’s a huge achievement.
“The build-up is quite slow for us as we only get the chance to train together three days prior to the game so we haven’t seen each other since the Batley game.
“We have a few returning faces in the team this time so the squad is slightly different to the one that played Batley.”
Abel also expects a difficult game for his side, but hinted that their fitness levels might stand them in good stead for the final; “York are looking in great form so it should be a tough but good game. The Army lady’s are fit and strong so we hope to give them a good fight and win of course!”
The Army Ladies coach is hoping for a bumper crowd at Heworth, and he also believes that victory would be a massive boost for not just women’s rugby in the army, but women’s rugby on the whole; “We have a few families that follow us so hoping to have a bit of a crowd there.
“I would hope [winning the shield would have] a huge impact; it would generate massive publicity and as the Army is a neutral team it should have a positive impact on the whole of women’s rugby league.”
North called on all fans of rugby in York to go and support the team in the final; “I really hope as many people as possible come to watch the game and support the girls. It will be a great day for all and a fantastic advert for rugby league in York with it being played at Heworth.”
The Challenge Shield final between York City Knights Ladies and Army Ladies takes place this Sunday, July 30th, at Heworth ARLFC, 1pm kick-off.