Georgia Roche: Super League's Woman of Steel on inspiring girls in rugby league

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Georgia Roche: Woman of Steel unchanged by 2018 award success
Women's Super League
Starts: Sunday, 7 April Coverage: Challenge Cup final and Super League Grand Final to be broadcast on BBC Sport

Georgia Roche laughs when asked if she is an inspiration but, as rugby league's inaugural Woman of Steel at the tender age of 18, she is.

As she clutched the trophy before a room full of rugby league stars last October, Roche was catapulted into the limelight as she posed for photos alongside her male counterpart Ben Barba.

The honour was enough to earn her a nomination for 2018 BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year - the only rugby league recognition within the entire awards event.

Yet, the England and Castleford Tigers stand-off is still a teenager, still grafting away six days a week at work, still learning to drive; facing all the challenges that adult life poses.

She is just starting out on her own career path, but has already seen the impact she can have on the players of the future.

"It's strange, with me still being so young," Roche told BBC Sport.

"I'd like to think the young girls look up to us and want to listen to what we say. Some of them ask for photos which is really nice. It feels good, like we're giving something back to the community."

From idols to team-mates - Roche's rise to the top

Roche has very swiftly gone from running about with her pals, to playing for her country.

It is just a couple of years since the teenager swapped under-16s rugby with Dewsbury Moor for the full-pelt, blood and thunder of first-grade Super League at Featherstone and then Castleford.

Roche became a key figure at either lock or stand-off for the Tigers, helping them to a fourth-place finish, and played in a Challenge Cup final following a four-try player of the match display in the semi-finals against York.

That in turn led to international recognition and she scored two tries on debut to cap a remarkable first campaign with Castleford, finishing up as the only England player on the Women's Golden Boot nominee list.

While Roche is not yet being noticed in the supermarket, there is recognition within the sport and that is reward enough.

"For the older players that I look up to, who have done everything I want, to notice who I am and even just say 'alright mate' to me, it's a big thing to me," she said.

"It feels good, It's changed in that aspect, but otherwise it's not changed drastically. It's just in a rugby environment, such as seeing your face on social media."

Juggling life and sport

Georgia Roche
Georgia Roche was awarded the Woman of Steel trophy in 2018

While the Women's Super League is the elite standard of competition, there is still some way to go before players like Roche and England team-mate Tara-Jane Stanley can enjoy the full-time status afforded to players in Australia's Women's National Rugby League.

Thus, it is a case of juggling her schedule around daily life, paying the bills and staying at peak fitness.

"I think it will take a few more years to get anywhere near that point," Roche said. "But hopefully it does and it will inspire young girls to play and be part of the rugby league family.

"I go to work, go to training and I'm learning to drive as well - it's just about fitting everything in.

"I'm quite lucky because I get Mondays off, the odd Monday I have to go in and I'm aching, it's awful."

Leeds-born Roche is a typically blunt Yorkshirewoman and far from diva-ish about the demands of the sport.

"You get on with it, don't you?" she says, without flinching. "If you want to do something then you'll just do it, won't you?

"It's an attitude you have to have if you want to play rugby league at the highest level."

One year on, bigger and better

Roche and her fellow players will feature in a Women's Super League in 2019 which has been bolstered by the introduction of an eighth team in Wakefield Trinity.

Last year, Wigan were the Super League Grand Final winners, Leeds won the Challenge Cup and League Leaders' Shield, while the Tigers came close with a final appearance.

The incentives on offer this season include the chance to play the Challenge Cup final at the University of Bolton Stadium, while the Grand Final is to be staged at Leeds' Headingley home.

"I don't think it was as big as this last year," Roche said of the promotion of the league for the new season. "Introducing ambassadors, having women involved in the World Cup, it makes us feel equal to the men and more involved which is really good.

"We're only going to be included more - it will encourage younger girls."

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