Cunningham: “When the draw was taking place and it was asked what nations do you want to face, Brazil and Canada were up there”
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 11/06/20 5:06pm
When the draw for the 2021 Women’s Rugby League World Cup was made back in January, Jodie Cunningham could have hardly been happier with the outcome.
Not because England had avoided the big guns of Australia and New Zealand though, but because they would have the opportunity to test themselves against two nations which are not traditionally associated with the sport.
Canada, semi-finalists in the 2017 tournament, and debutants Brazil will be lining up against the host nation and Papua New Guinea in Group A. To add to that, England will open the tournament against the Brazilians at Headingley on November 9.
“It’s so exciting,” Cunningham told Sky Sports. “When the draw was taking place and it was asked what nations do you want to face, Brazil and Canada were up there.
“It fell perfectly for us because we got both and having Brazil as that opening game, I really think that’s the perfect game to start the tournament.
“It’s got the excitement of having the host nation in there, but also a completely new nation people will be interested in and want to go to watch to see what they can do.
“As an athlete, it’ll be interesting to see what they can do because I’ve never played against Canada or Brazil.”
Cunningham is in the unusual position of not only aiming to be part of the England squad like she was in Australia three years ago, but also working on the RLWC2021 organisers as women’s ambassador and as part of the legacy team.
This week saw the tournament reach the milestone of 500 days to go and confirmation of the training venues – England’s women will be based in Leeds along with their three Group A rivals – amid a blizzard of social media activity.
Cunningham is particularly delighted to see all 32 teams representing 21 nations involved across the men’s, women’s and wheelchair World Cups showing their support for different initiatives as well.
“It’s so incredible and it’s a weird perspective being a player who’s hoping to be part of the England women’s squad, but then also being on the administrative side and the team making it happen,” Cunningham said.
It’s so incredible and it’s a weird perspective being a player who’s hoping to be part of the England women’s squad, but then also being on the administrative side and the team making it happen.
“But it makes me doubly excited and when we’re going through stuff at work, I have to control my excitement as a player and make sure we focus on stuff.
“It’s been so good of a build-up and just seeing everything happen across all social media channels, it’s been great to see the engagement and everyone getting behind it.
“From my experience, particularly from the women’s side and the wheelchair side, we really appreciate how involved the nations have been in the decision-making process, being consulted and being involved in any big announcements.”
Not being able to conduct any face-to-face activity as part of the tournament’s legacy programme during the coronavirus pandemic has not slowed Cunningham’s activity though.
If anything, her and her colleagues have been just as busy with initiatives such as the mental fitness and education programmes, plus projects involving community clubs which will be rolled out once they are given the all-clear to resume.
The St Helens full-back is waiting to find out when the Women’s Super League will be able to make a belated start as well, with the rugby league season in this country suspended just weeks before the 2020 campaign was due to get underway.
A pre-season training camp with the England performance unit has helped Cunningham and her international team-mates keep their skills sharp, while the Saints have been holding online training sessions.
“That’s the biggest challenge,” Cunningham said. “I’m very much your home is your chill time and do all my work at training and in the gym.
I’m not one who enjoys training at home. I’m very much you’re home is your chill time and do all my work at training and in the gym. But I’ve adapted, like everyone has had to.
“But I’ve adapted, like everyone has had to, to the different environment and at St Helens we’ve been doing a lot together with the girls on Zoom sessions.
“There have been different workouts and players leading things, and hopefully in the next few weeks, we’ll start to get more into an outdoor training programme where we can maybe go to the park to do individual skills in small groups.
“Hopefully that’s the next progression and I can’t wait to get back with the girls and training properly.”
The Women’s Super League took more big steps forward in 2019 and Cunningham is optimistic that will continue when the season is allowed to start, along with keeping that progress going into next year and the World Cup.
“I hope this doesn’t derail that momentum and I don’t think it will because, with this lack of live sport and people not being able to go to sit in the crowd, I think people really miss that,” Cunningham said.
“Sport has always been a huge part of my life and I can’t believe how much I’ve missed that in this situation. I think it’s a huge release for a lot of people and something they’re really passionate about, whether that’s playing or watching.
“As soon as we do get the green light and we can go ahead with the Women’s Super League, hopefully it will pick up where it left off.”