Skip to content

Courtney Winfield-Hill on switching from Australia to England and cricket to rugby league

Courtney Winfield-Hill captained Leeds Rhinos in the Women’s Challenge Cup final in May
Venue: Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington Date: Saturday, 18 June Kick-off: 15:15 BST
Coverage: Follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

The former Australian Big Bash cricketer Courtney Winfield-Hill says she will sing God Save the Queen loud and proud if she is selected to make her England rugby league Test debut on Saturday.

And the back – who is married to England cricket international Lauren Winfield-Hill – says she looks forward to singing the anthem with a passion.

“Absolutely I do,” said Winfield-Hill, whose availability is seen as a major boost to England’s chances in this autumn’s World Cup.

“I already do when I go and watch Lauren play all of her internationals. It was interesting at the Ashes in Canberra – I’d stand up and sing both. I will always sing both. I might even throw in the French national anthem this weekend as well,” she chuckled.

Winfield-Hill’s journey towards England rugby league selection started with cricketing heartbreak in her native Queensland.

“Rewind five years ago and I’d lost my Big Bash and National League contract playing cricket with the Brisbane Heat,” she told this week’s 5Live Rugby League podcast.

“I was distracted at the time but I always say there are silver linings to things. And fast forward to five years later, I followed my heart over here to England.

“I wasn’t able to play cricket at the time because of visa issues, but I was able to play rugby league.

“So I went back to my childhood really. I hadn’t played rugby league for nearly two decades but fell in love with the game again. And to be honest, rugby league was my first love.

“I just kept saying yes to various opportunities that cropped up. And this week, should I be named in that 17 for the match, then there’s the silver lining to the disappointing end to my cricket five years ago.”

Courtney Winfield-Hill
Courtney Winfield-Hill poses with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles during the Women’s Big Bash League match between the Perth Scorchers and the Brisbane Heat in December 2017

Winfield-Hill grew up idolizing the stars in the NRL, including Darren Lockyer, Steve Renouf and Andrew Ettingshausen, who also had a spell playing for Leeds.

It was at school in Queensland that her passion for league was finely honed.

“The end of lunchtime back home in Australia, it was 10 minutes of silent reading,” she said.

“Being silent was hard enough for me, reading was the other hard part.

“But I didn’t read. I just had photographs of every NRL team and all the players and by the end of the 90s I could tell you every player who played for every team. It really was my first love.

“It’s just lovely that having been a fan and a spectator for two decades, I’m now on the other side and actually playing the game.”

The seeds of playing for England on residency rules were first planted by Leeds and England legend Kevin Sinfield after Rhinos won the 2019 Women’s Super League.

“We’d had a terrific season with the Rhinos. Kevin was a great mentor for me and I went in the week after the Grand Final to thank him and shake his hand,” recalled the goal-kicking stand-off.

“At the time, he was doing that dual role of high-performance at the Rhinos and leading high-performance with England, and he said to me: There’s a World Cup on the horizon and you will be eligible.

“That’s where the conversation started. It wasn’t all that comfortable with me at that point of time, but it was something to consider.”

She would not have been eligible if the World Cup had been held last year, but has now completed her five-year residency requirement.

“When it got postponed, I thought: Here we go, I’ve got to potentially make another decision,” she said. “There were more conversations with Craig [Richards, England’s head coach] and I’m grateful to be able to accept the opportunity.”

But before Winfield-Hill accepted the offer to play for England, she made sure she would be accepted by her potential team-mates.

She said: “I think that was one of my first questions to Craig: ‘How do you think it will be received?’

“I know there will always be people in the general rugby league community who will say it’s not right that I’m wearing an England rugby league jersey.

“But first and foremost, do I have the approval of the team, the blessing of the team?

“He told me that it was the case. It’s important that the team welcome you with open arms and want you to be a part of it.

“I feel like my rugby league journey has been over here, particularly as an adult, and this is certainly a rugby league home for me. That was probably the deciding factor.”

Her dream now would be to help England reach the World Cup final at Old Trafford in November. And if Australia make the final as well, she’d be the one bellowing out both anthems before kick-off.

“Course I would,” she laughed. “I love singing, any excuse to have a bit of a sing. I will be singing God Save the Queen and should that final occur I would absolutely sing Advance Australia Fair.”

Around the BBC iPlayer bannerAround the BBC iPlayer footer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.