Wales women’s international players Bethan Dainton and Carys Marsh will go head to head this Sunday when Leeds Rhinos face Wigan Warriors at Headingley in Leeds for a place in the Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup Final. The match is being shown live on BBC iPlayer, kick-off 2.30pm.
A Welsh international has been part of a men’s Rugby League Challenge Cup winning side over 100 times, with many more runners-up, and Wales have had a Wheelchair Challenge Cup winner in Jodie Boyd-Ward, but this will be the first time that we’ve ever had a player in the Women’s version of the competition.
Marsh, 25, comes from a traditional rugby league area. Born in St Helens, she qualifies for Wales through her Welsh mum. A rugby league player since school, she played for community side Thatto Heath before signing for St Helens and then Wigan. She represented England Students and Lancashire before winning five caps for Wales, making her debut in 2021. Her brother Iwan Marsh won four caps for Wales RL U19s in 2019.
Dainton, 34, from Caerphilly, has a background in CrossFit, football and athletics, representing Wales on the track and cross country. She started playing rugby union in 2015 with Newport Gwent Dragons, going on to also represent Bristol Bears, Harlequins, The Army and UK Armed Forces. She won eight caps for Wales in rugby union and also represented the Barbarians, before switching to Rugby League with The Army in 2021 and winning two caps for Wales in 2022. She signed for Leeds Rhinos for the 2023 season.
The semi-final is being played before the men’s Challenge Cup semi-final between Wigan and Hull Kingston Rovers, and whilst the Rhinos are the home club in the women’s game, Marsh says that her side should have a lot of support.
“When we normally play a doubleheader with the men, the atmosphere normally picks up in the second half as the crowd starts to increase,” she said. “But I think that the supporters coaches that the club are putting on for the fans to get to the game, are arriving before we kick-off, so it’s really good that they’re doing that. Hopefully then we’ll have a decent crowd for our game too.
“We’re really looking forward to playing at Headingley. We’ve been there a couple of times now and it’s great playing at the big grounds as we don’t often get to do that.”
Leeds beat Wigan 52-0 the last time they met a couple of weeks ago, but Marsh isn’t put off by that scoreline.
She said: “We had a few players out injured in that game and most of them will have come back for the semi-final. Hopefully, we’ll have our strongest team out this time, and we can turn that score around a bit. Also, we’ve shown before that we can rise to the occasion.
“Whoever gets to Wembley, it’s amazing that there could be Welsh representation and get some coverage there. Obviously, I really want it to be me and I’ll be buzzing if it was, but if it’s Bethan, I’ll be buzzing for her too.”
Dainton admits that the Super League match between the two sides had a bit of a lopsided final score.
“I don’t think the scoreline reflected the last game,” she said. “The first 40 minutes were very tough, they have a great team with really strong forwards and speedy backs. Wigan are growing as a team and the 9s tournament showed the growth and talent that they have in the squad. We will need to stick to our processes and concentrate on ourselves and hopefully, we can deliver an 80-minute performance. It’s all to play for, anything can happen in knock-out rugby.
“Preparations are going well. We’ve reviewed our previous game and identified the areas we need to work on, but we’re ultimately treating this week like any other week and trying not to get ahead of ourselves.”
Dainton is a veteran of two Six Nations campaigns in the 15-person rugby and because of this has played in grounds situated metres away from Wales’ Principality Stadium and England’s Twickenham. But now she’s just a game away from playing in her biggest stage yet.
“Wembley is the national stadium and it’s so historic, so to see women’s rugby league being showcased on the biggest stage and getting the recognition it deserve is incredible,” she said. “It shows how far the game has come, to be given a platform and hopefully inspire the next generation.”
There are a number of opportunities to partner with the Wales RL Women’s team, starting with the Test match against England this November.