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New Zealand defeats England to advance to the Women’s World Cup final.

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Heartbreak for English rugby league in a World Cup, but this time with optimism and plenty of pride. While Shaun Wane’s men were undeniably disappointing in the semi-finals over the weekend, Craig Richards’ women exited at the same stage, but with their heads held high.

Make no mistake, England’s goal this year was to reach the final on home soil. However, the quality gap between the development of women’s rugby league on both sides of the world is so large that it cannot be bridged overnight. England was defeated 52-4 by New Zealand in the semi-finals five years ago.

The outcome may have been the same in front of a near-capacity crowd in York, but not much else was. This is a national team that has captivated the public, and the Women’s Super League should benefit domestically next year. However, credit must be given to the Kiwi Ferns for setting up a fourth consecutive final against Australia’s Jillaroos.

The hosts took an early 6-0 lead, and you wondered if England could pull off a surprise. In stark contrast to 2017, England held their own in the contest until the final whistle as New Zealand asserted their dominance and ran out winners as the night progressed.

“I’ve seen the sacrifices they’ve made, and I’m so proud of them,” Richards said before breaking down in tears when it was revealed that England will be coached by someone else next year. “We have girls who come in at 6 a.m., go to work, and then come back for another session.” What else are they capable of? Professionalism is the solution.”

The WSL has made great strides, but all of the players are amateurs and will be unpaid in 2022, in contrast to the NRLW, where the vast majority of the players – including several New Zealand stars – are full-time professionals. Leeds Rhinos will pay win bonuses to their players next year, assisting the women’s game to take another big step forward.

It is a clear indication that the women’s game in this country is progressing, and England’s performance here, combined with the public’s support for the Lionesses in recent weeks, is another. When Georgia Roche’s pass sent Fran Goldthorp over to break the tie, the crowd erupted.

However, New Zealand gradually took control of the situation, led by the destructive duo of Amber Hall and Mele Hufanga. They scored their first try when Hall’s break sent Hufanga over, and Raecene McGregor’s close-range finish made the Kiwi Ferns lead 8-6 at the half. With the game on the line, you felt the first try after the break was critical.

Unfortunately for the hosts, New Zealand took the lead. Hufanga again left several England defenders sprawled on the ground before offloading and allowing Oseta Pule to cross for the Kiwi Ferns. Then, when Brianna Clark broke through to make it 20-6, you feared New Zealand would run away with it. To their credit, the England team dug in and fought until the very last tackle.

The outcome was heartbreakingly familiar, but the scoreline and the 7,000-plus crowd that came to watch indicate that there is a foundation for women’s rugby league to build on. This year will not be England’s year, but it may be in the near future. The onus is now on the powers that be to push forward with the dream of professionalizing England’s women. They have earned it.

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