A Wigan Youth Zone employee is heading Down Under to represent England in the Women’s Rugby League World Cup.
Rachel Thompson, from Hindley Green, has been picked for the England squad hoping to secure the biggest prize in the women’s game.
The 22-year-old centre has secured her place in the touring party after making her international debut earlier this year against France.
She is now hoping to add to her two caps during the tournament, which starts in November and finishes with the final being held as the curtain raiser to the game deciding the men’s champion.
Rachel says she is looking forward to experiencing the passion for rugby league in Australia and hopes the tournament will be another big step forward in developing the women’s game.
She said: “This is definitely my biggest achievement. It will be a lot different to playing at club level, much more intense.
“It was good to be picked but a bit nerve-racking. It should be a good experience.
“Having the final as the men’s curtain raiser is quite daunting but it would be fantastic to play on such a big stage. Hopefully we can do the job and get to the final and win.”
Brought up in a rugby-loving family and as a Wigan Warriors season ticket holder, Rachel first played the 13-a-side code at Westhoughton Lions and was almost immediately hooked.
She later moved to the successful women’s set-up at Leigh Miners Rangers before heading along the East Lancs Road to Thatto Heath St Helens in order to play in the top flight.
Rachel is the youngest of six children and her sister Clare Radford, 28, still plays for the Leigh Miners side.
Rachel says she faces an uphill battle among her relatives for support when the two sides meet.
Despite that, her family and her employers at Wigan Youth Zone, where she is a play worker mainly employed during the holiday clubs, are right behind her international ambitions with England.
She said: “When Clare and I play each other they all want her to win because she’s the underdog. However, they’re all part of what I’ve achieved and very supportive.
“When I was little I was the only girl in the team but that never really fazed me. At high school there wasn’t a team but I played whenever I could. Rugby was obviously seen as more of a boy thing to do but that didn’t bother me.”
The six-team tournament features two pools of three, with England facing hosts Australia and the Cook Islands for two places in the semi finals and New Zealand, Canada and Papua New Guinea also clashing.
There is no doubt which of the games Rachel is looking forward to most.
She said: “Australia and New Zealand are the two big names and they have some professional players. You want to challenge yourself by playing against the best.”
When not working at the youth zone or training with Thatto Heath Rachel works as a sports coach with the PE Academy going into schools.
She says she tries to encourage more girls to take up rugby league and hopes the World Cup, coupled with Wigan Warriors’ decision to start a women’s team, will drive up interest locally.
The Women’s Rugby League World Cup runs from November 16 and December 2.Find out more at www.rlwc2017.com