Natalie is originally from Hull, she started playing at West Hull then moved to Featherstone. She has played 3 times for England at the time of interview is recovering from a snapped ACL
Julia Lee chats to Natalie about her Rugby League career.
I used to play football. It were my aunty ’s – because I’m originally from Hull – I used to go and watch Hull FC.
Yeah, so I used to play football, but I used to go and watch rugby and there were no girls’ teams really at that point. And I think I got to 15 and I were getting a bit bored of football and somebody said we’re setting up a girls’ team at West Hull – do you fancy coming to play? So, I went down – never played before. About 6 months after that, I were playing for Yorkshire. And then it just went from there really. I am 29 now so I started playing in 2015.
It were good at West Hull. We played a lot of festivals and things like that. Obviously, I hadn’t had much development at the girls’, because of the age that I started at. So, I pretty much played six months until I were 16, and then I played for Yorkshire, which Rich Whiting coached as well, at Yorkshire. We won that tournament and then I went straight up to the women. Played for West Hull women till I was 18 and then I had a like 6-year break because it sort of dispersed in Hull then. After that there were no teams at all.
As I said I didn’t play at all for 6 years and then it were Gemma Walsh who were playing at Feath, after about 6 years, she messaged me, saying, “Do you fancy coming to play for Feath?”. And it just spiralled from there. Came back down to Feath – I live over here now, so it’s a lot easier. I’m actually in Holmfirth. It’s a bit of a trek but it’s worth me travelling.
I have been playing for Feath for about 6 years we’ve won cup finals and then I got into the England squad. I’ve done 2 camps with them to France. Unfortunately, on the last camp, in the June, I snapped my ACL in my right knee. I’ve done the left one as well. I snapped the one in my right knee, which put me out of the World Cup, so I’m coming back from that. This season, back from that.
But a lot more positive this year, like getting back into fitness and seeing where it goes from there again. I am now employed as the Women and Girls Development Officer for Wakefield.
The first time I went to France to play for England, I remember just feeling sick, I was that nervous. But obviously excited as well. We flew out in the morning and we flew back the same day, because obviously they wanted to see how people coped with the tiredness and stuff like that. And we won that game. I’ve actually got some memorabilia framed at home from that game. Then the second tour was 2017, June. We went for a week, played 2 games. I played in both games. We won both games. And it were just brilliant. The second time were obviously more effective for me. It were a full week, being in camp and it was just completely professional, it were, you know, a different kettle of fish to what we’d been used to at club level, although obviously that’s coming on now. We’ve seen massive changes in this season, so fingers crossed it can just go on and build and build from there.
Our coach was Chris Chapman at the time. We were just really looked after. Anything we needed. You know if we had any game day rituals, they would sort it out and it were just brilliant. The spirit of the girls being in camp, it were professional. Recovery every day. It were just brilliant. Really enjoyed it.
Since the Super League I think the women’s game – cos obviously I played from when we used to get handed down kits, when we all used to, we wore tents and stuff like that – it is massively changed. Things are starting to develop now. And I’ve got a 7-year old myself and for her, if you think in 10 years’ time, what she’s going to achieve from what’s happening now, will be huge. And I can’t wait to be part of watching her play and stuff.
The Super League is just things being professional. Getting on the main pitch. Playing in the stadiums that we’re playing in. It is completely different. Every experience that we have, every week, is completely different to what we used to have. From start to finish, basically. Turning up, you know, the professionalism, it’s a lot more there now, the commitment from the girls, it’s just completely different.
I remember having to ring people up on the day – can you come and play? D’you know – that’s where we’ve come from, to where we’re at now.
All three of my caps for England stick out for individual reasons. Me first game, me first try, I scored for England. It were amazing. I remember just breaking the line, thinking oh my god, did that just happen? It were really good. It were a really good ball off Jenny Wellesby and it were quite a simple try, really, I just had to put it down, but, yeah, it was a proud moment. I think they’d been aired on like Our League and stuff. Now my family are from Hull and they look after my nana so they don’t get the opportunity to come and watch me play, so then being able to, for them to watch on the Our League app and stuff, that is massive for me. And it’s just, having me family there, them games have stood out. We played I think last season, Bradford, me dad and me brother came to watch and it’s them games are important to me. When my family come. This season especially, because we’re on the main field, we get opportunities for like, kids to walk out with us and my little girl, she loves to walk out with us and she’s had that opportunity this year. So, I’ve been able to give her that opportunity and see her face and she’s very proud. I’ve got photos with her and stuff like that. They’re the important memories to me. We can win as many trophies or lose as many games, but that’s what sticks in my mind.
My focus this year has been getting back to, mentally more than anything, prepared, you know, being able to put the commitment in. Cos, I did struggle after the World Cup and like, obviously there’s a lot more help now, coming back from injury and stuff like that. Whereas there wasn’t then. It’s a lot more noticed when people are struggling and things like that. Obviously, missing out on the World Cup was massive for me, so, just being able to come back, commit to Featherstone, which I have this season, get back into training and get to my fittest and best level that I can be at is what I’m focusing on now. And then anything after that, I’ll progress to then and see what happens.
There’s a lot of things at stake I’m just trying not to think about that at the minute, cos I need to get back to where I was and that’s more important for me at the minute, to get to that level, and then if that comes, then …