After being one of four French players to join the York Valkyrie last year, and the French women’s team having their base in York for the last World Cup, it wasn’t a difficult decision for the recently appointed French captain Elisa Akpa to return to the cathedral city in the north of England in 2023.
“York has a special place in my heart, both because of the sporting moments I’ve experienced and because of the people I’ve met,” Akpa said
“It helped me grow up and is part of my history.
“As well as the sporting side of things, I enjoy wandering around this cultural city with its rich history. Every time I do, I discover new things and unusual shops. My favourite place is still York Minster, drinking a cup of tea while gazing at it.”
York Director of Rugby Lindsay Anfield was more than happy to accommodate the 31 year old forward this season, saying she went “really well” in the Valkyrie’s recent big win over Huddersfield where she scored two tries.
“She’s experienced and extremely dedicated to rugby league, hence her moving to the U.K. for the remainder of the season.
“Elisa brings a wealth of experience and calmness to the young squad and we are really pleased to have her.”
Like her French national team mates, Perrine Monsarrat, who has a development contract with the Sydney Roosters in the NRLW and Lauréane Biville, who will most likely return to Wigan, Akpa sees the experience as being beneficial both for her own game and in her homeland.
“It gives us visibility both in France and abroad. Everyone gains experience and when they come back to France they pass on what they’ve learned, which is only good for our sport. It helps or rather encourages others to take the path of rugby league and shows the opportunities it offers.
“I have learnt (at York) that team dynamics are important to be the best player you can be, and (you need) dedication and commitment on and off the pitch
“Hard work pays off. It’s a ‘mantra’I can identify with, so I have quickly found my place.
“With Lindsay, everything is carefully thought out and nothing is left to chance with all her staff. It’s very professional.”
Like so many of the current elite women players Akpa tried a variety of sports before settling on rugby league.
“I played a number of sports at a good level, including tennis and basketball before devoting myself to rugby.
“When I moved to the south of France, I discovered rugby league by going to Gilbert Brutus to watch the Catalan Dragons play.I started playing for the Déesses Catalanes (women’s team) in 2018. A friend suggested I give it a try, knowing that I already played rugby union.
“The team atmosphere, the technical skills, the intensity, the tackles and a possible place in the national team were all things that made me want to commit myself fully afterwards.
“It’s obviously a great source of pride and an honour to wear the French jersey. Representing your country in a sport is for me the greatest reward when you’re an athlete.”
I have already achieved a French title in May with the Déesses Catalanes.
“And for now I’m fully committed to go all the way with York Valkyries and hopefully go to Wembley.
“That’s quite a lot for one year,” Akpa, who captained France this year against England and Serbia, says with a smile.