An award-winning Sale Sharks volunteer says the only Premiership rugby union club in the North West has a fantastic opportunity to set up a women’s top flight team.
Paula Bradbury, the Chairman of Girls and Ladies Rugby at Winnington Park RFC, won the Community Volunteer of the Year at the Premiership Rugby Parliamentary Community Awards on July 4.
She picked up the gong at the House of Commons ahead of John Trigg at Saracens and Bath Rugby’s husband-and-wife duo Janet and John Miles after going above and beyond to back women’s rugby, starting a women’s and girls’ section at Winnington in 2013 and watching it grow year on year.
BBC Sport – Premiership Rugby Parliamentary Community Awards: Unsung heroes of the grassroots game are honoured https://t.co/3lgrBHyYna
— Winnington Park RFC (@Wprfc_Religion) July 5, 2017
And she hopes it can be catalyst for a potential Sharks’ ladies side with the beginning of Women’s Super Rugby in September.
“I’d love to see a Sale Sharks ladies’ team,” she told MM.
“I think it is a real possibility given that increasing numbers of women are taking up the sport or showing stronger interest in the game.
“It would probably take time to set up but certainly within the next 10 years it could be achieved. There’s indeed enough interest on the area for one and I think it would be a major missed opportunity if Sale don’t try and set one up.
“If Sale were to set up a team, it would be massive for women’s rugby here.”
The Women’s Rugby Premiership was founded in 1986 but currently has only eight teams competing and has no teams from the North West – although the new league will involve 10 sides including Merseyside’s Firwood Waterloo Ladies.
Women’s rugby has seen increased support over the last few years with the first World Cup taking place in 1991 which was then followed in 1996 by the first Women’s Home Nations Championship – which became the Six Nations in 2002.
Then in March this year plans were put forward by the British and Irish Lions for there to be a women’s team, the Lionesses, that would have its first tour to either New Zealand or Canada in 2019.
Paula said such growth had been echoed in the North West.
“I feel the women’s and girl’s game is developing at an increasingly impressive rate which is fantastic.
“It’s wonderful to see such a steady increase in numbers though as some of them have never played contact rugby before or some only briefly in the touch rugby format, but anyone can play rugby, there’s a place for everyone on a rugby pitch.
“Many people are starting to have a go, get involved and enjoy it as at the end of the day, participation and wanting to have a go is key.”
The Premiership Rugby Parliamentary Community Awards’ Community Volunteer of the Year prize is given to those who have shown a continued high level of commitment to helping youngsters in their local area and have gone the extra mile with their volunteering.
BT Charity and Community Director Suzy Christopher (main picture, left), who was on the judging panel, believes the success of the women’s game in the Sale area would have been impossible without Paula.
“The story behind her setting up a girls team was thoroughly inspiring: her daughter wanted to play but Paula found out there was nothing in the area offering girls rugby.
“So in 2013 Paula helped set up a women and girls section at Winnington Park with just four girls, including her daughter.
‘THOROUGHLY INSPIRING’: Paula Bradbury set up a side for her daughter at Winnington Park after she found there was nowhere for girls to play
“After giving up so much of her spare time, they are about to launch an under 18s team which is remarkable.
“Without Paula women’s rugby in the area would not have developed as it has. She is a remarkable woman and a worthy winner of the Volunteer Award.”
Paula added she was treating the day as a day out and all she wanted was just to make the most of the experience.
“I had expected just to be sat with all the nominees, who all deserved to win, not ending up in the spotlight!” she said.
“It was a massive shock to say the least and the comments people said to me upon receiving the awards were so nice and really heart-warming.”
Paula said she had been interested in rugby from an early age but, when she was at school, rugby was not a sport girls had the opportunity to play.
LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTER: Paula, delighted to be playing again, pictured with her daughter after the last Cheshire ladies match of the 2017 season. Paula’s daughter finished playing in time to ‘encourage’ her Mum from the sidelines along with her team mates
Yet she took more of a keen interest in the sport again nine years ago when her son started to play and she started to get involved with rugby and continues playing it to this day.
“I’ve started playing full contact rugby in the last 12 months which has been great for me personally as I’d only ever played touch rugby before that and not the full 15-a-side.
“It’s the opportunity now for me to get fully into the sport again.”