A trio of college rugby players from Warrington have been placed on a talent pathway they hope will lead to playing at the highest level of the women’s game.
Shakira Westwood, Hattie Dogus and Izzy Hughes – all members of Priestley College’s Rugby Academy – are on the RFL’s government-funded Diploma in Sporting Excellence (DiSE) programme.
“This is an incredible opportunity for all three girls,” said academy coach Lee Mitchell.
“They will get to train with other top athletes of their age as well as work towards a diploma that will carry weight when applying for university places.”
The programme is aimed at talented young players who have been identified through regional Rugby League hubs across the north of England and south-east.
Those accepted learn what it takes to compete at the elite level, including technical and tactical elements of the games as well as physical and mental preparation.
The girls were among 30 who attended their first training session at Weetwood Hall, the England Rugby League Performance Centre.
Former Beamont Collegiate Academy pupil Hattie, who has been playing rugby for 11 years, said it was ‘unreal’ to have been given the opportunity.
“Training with coaches to the current England women’s squad was truly remarkable,” she said.
“It felt like I was training for the World Cup myself. I really enjoyed it and I can’t wait to go back for another session.”
Priestley’s rugby programme is run in partnership with Warrington Wolves and in 2020 was named the UK’s first Dual Academy in recognition of how well both the girls and boys were doing.
The boys’ team went through their last season unbeaten while the number of girls playing has more than doubled from nine to 20 this year.
Alongside their regular studies, Shakira, Hattie and Izzy will work towards achieving the Diploma in Sporting Excellence – a BTEC Level 3 qualification recognised by the university admissions service UCAS.
Hattie, who is studying Law, English and History at Priestley, said being part of the programme made her rugby goals seem achievable.
“I’d love to play for my home town of Warrington as it’s where my love for rugby began,” she said.
“I also have a true ambition to play for a team in Australia, this would be an achievement like no other.”