Wigan Warriors announced themselves at the top table of Women’s Rugby League with a string of sensational performances at Women’s Nines Finals Day at Salford City Stadium.
The likes of Mary Coleman, Anna Davies, Molly Jones and Jodie Morris were outstanding throughout, as the Warriors first stated notice of intent in holding Leeds Rhinos 14-14 at the group stage before stunning holders York Valkyrie 12-4 in the knock-out stages to reach the final.
But the Warriors were denied a fairytale finale by a Rhinos side that timed its tournament run to perfection. After easing through the group stage, including a 36-0 win over Warrington Wolves, the Rhinos comfortably saw off St Helens 14-4 in the semi-final before holding off the Warriors to win a pulsating final 21-8.
The Warriors simply could not contain Ruby Enright, Eloise Hayward, Tara Moxon and player-of-the-final Izzy Northrop, who enjoyed a tournament to remember. Northrop, for once, wasn’t on the scoresheet but was nevertheless a constant threat and the quality of the Rhinos’ finishing, especially from Moxon, was totally sublime.
Yet while it was Leeds Rhinos’ Hanna Butcher who held the Women’s Nines trophy high at the end of the end, Wigan Warriors players too held their heads high and will have their sights on an exciting future as a force in Women’s Rugby League.
Leeds had opened Finals Day in the morning with an emphatic 36-0 Group A victory over Warrington Wolves, before sharing the spoils with Wigan in an entertaining 14-14 draw.
A lightning start against the Wolves saw the Rhinos race into an 11-0 lead after two minutes, courtesy of tries from Tara Moxon and Zoe Hornby, before two additional tries gave Leeds a 22-0 advantage at half time. The Rhinos continued to dominate in the second half as Sam Hulme scored a fifth try, before Eloise Hayward showed blistering pace down the right wing to complete a 36-0 win.
In the second Group A match, Leeds required a late converted try to remain unbeaten after they fought back to draw 14-14 with Wigan Warriors.?The Warriors started strongly as Anna Davies powered over to open the scoring after two minutes, before Rhinos levelled the contest through Ruby Enright.
Nines Champions 🙌 pic.twitter.com/YzCH1Whjo5
— Leeds Rhinos (@leedsrhinos) June 24, 2023
Wigan capitalised on a penalty to regain the lead with the final action of the half when Emma Dwyer scooted over as Beri Salihi added the conversion to give the Warriors a 10-4 lead at the break.
The Rhinos responded after the restart when Enright collected a kick to touch down for her second try of the match, however, Wigan went ahead once more when Salihi raced clear to score. A tightly contested clash was levelled late on as Rhinos sealed their progression to the semi-finals.
The Warriors then despatched Warrington Wolves 33-0 – with Anna Davies and Molly Jones outstanding and the Wolves suffering unfortunate injuries to Aby Latchford and Charlie Magraw – to secure a semi-final spot against Group B winners York Valkyrie.
A quick start saw the Warriors lead after 30 seconds when Molly Jones sprinted clear from halfway, before Anna Davies increased their lead with her second try of the Finals day. Mary Coleman and a second of the match from Davies widened the Warriors advantage, before Grace Banks raced clear to score Warriors’ sixth try of the match.
York Valkyrie had earlier faced St Helens in the opening Group B fixture, an 11-10 final score offering an indication of the strength competitiveness of the two sides. St Helens suffered an early set-back, losing Zoe Harris with a leg injury, and York took full advantage with first half tries from Tara Stanley and Liv Whitehead gave the reigning champions an 11-0 half-time lead. St Helens hit back after the break with tries from Eboni Partington and Phoebe Hook, but couldn’t quite bridge the gap.
York then faced ‘wildcard’ entry Cardiff Demons in the second Group B match of the day. And, like St Helens with Zoe Harris earlier, the Valkyrie were rocked by injury to Georgie Hetherington who was hurt in the act of scoring her side’s second try. Tara Stanley – the star of last year’s tournament – continued undaunted, scoring four tries as the Valkyrie ran out winners 23-0.
With York Valkyrie, Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors assured of semi-final spots, it was left to St Helens and Cardiff Demons to determine the final play off contender. The Demons gave a magnificent account of themselves, trailed just 4-6 at the break and gave St Helens an almighty fright before losing just 8-16.