A new exhibition that showcases the female pioneers of international rugby league opens today (14 November) at Pontefract Museum.
‘Women in Rugby League: Life with the Lionesses’ was created in partnership with the Women in Rugby League project and shows how inspirational sportswomen challenged rugby league’s traditionally male supremacy. It also follows their ground-breaking journey on and off the field.
Many of the trail-blazing women featured in the exhibition come from or have played in the Wakefield district.
Visitors will discover a previously hidden history with a timeline spanning 100 years of women’s achievements in international rugby league. They will hear from the Lionesses themselves, through inspiring quotes and short films. Young rugby league fans and budding international stars of the future can enjoy a selfie opportunity and dress up, in support of the national teams.
The exhibition pays tribute to the pioneering efforts that has led to England’s women now playing on an equal stage with their male counterparts. This year’s Rugby League World Cup is the first time that the men’s, women’s, and wheelchair tournaments have all taken place at the same time. In contrast, the first Lionesses were forced to fund their own international tour in 1996.
Inspirational coach, Jackie Sheldon played for the Wakefield Panthers before becoming Great Britain’s Assistant Coach and later Head Coach. Her team tracksuit, jersey, and suit from the inaugural 1996 tour will be on display in the exhibition alongside other previously unseen objects from the women’s rugby league archive, kindly lent by Heritage Quay, University of Huddersfield.
Jackie is delighted that the former Lionesses are finally getting the recognition they deserve. She said: “I would like to thank Wakefield Council for hosting this exhibition.”
“The Council’s strong tradition of supporting the female game has helped to put women’s rugby league on the map, and highlights the excellent work done by the pioneers both on and off the field.”
“Women’s rugby league has been played in the district for over 30 years, with the initial seeds sown by council programmes, which is a testament to its long tradition of supporting diversity and inclusion.”
“The exhibition records the wonderful history, one that is at the heart of the Wakefield district, where rugby league has played its part in bringing these communities together for over a century.”
Councillor Michael Graham, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport, said: “It is very fitting to be hosting this exhibition here in the rugby league heartlands of the Wakefield district.”
“We are incredibly proud that women from Pontefract and across the district have represented their country at the highest level and are so pleased to honour their achievements in this exciting exhibition.”
“We hope lots of people will come to celebrate our strong tradition of women’s rugby league and that other women and girls will be inspired to follow in the Lionesses footsteps.”
The World Cup final is being held in England, on Saturday 19 November, and fans can get in the spirit by visiting the exhibition which is open until 26 August 2023.
The exhibition was originally designed by Women in Rugby League as a touring pop-up display. Pontefract Museum has adapted the original format and will be the first location to host it on a long-term basis.
To find out more about the Women in Rugby League project, visit their website here
Photo Credit: Simon Wilkinson