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Georgia Roche: England star on her NRLW experience ahead of Saturday's international against Wales

Georgia Roche is one of three English players who have been playing full-time rugby league in Australia this year, helping Newcastle Knights be crowned NRLW champions for the second year in a row; The 23-year-old is back home for England Women's international against Wales on Saturday

Picture by Alex Whitehead/ - 31/10/2023 - Rugby League - England RL - Headingley Stadium, Leeds, England - England women’s players Georgia Roche pictured at Headingley stadium to preview the upcoming game against Wales.

Georgia Roche went to Australia in July not knowing what to expect. The England Women’s international has now returned to her homeland as an NRLW champion.

It will be familiar surroundings for the 23-year-old on Saturday as the former Leeds Rhinos player takes to the field at AMT Headingley for the international clash with Wales, having left earlier this year to take up a five-year full-time contract in Australia with Newcastle Knights.

After making her debut in Round 3 of the NRLW season, Roche went on to become a regular starter for the Knights and played at stand-off as they defeated Gold Coast Titans 24-18 in the Grand Final to claim the title for the second year running. It is a move which could hardly have worked out better.

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Highlights of the mid-season international between England Women and France Women.

"I didn't know how it was going to pan out, how much game-time I was going to get, but I worked hard to get into the squad and continued to work hard to retain my spot," Roche said. "I was lucky enough I managed to do that.

"The environment they've created at Newcastle is second to none. The girls are great, and it was a great experience being among some of the best in the world, and it has definitely been a year to remember.

"I was very fortunate to be among a group of girls where we all had one goal and all took our goal seriously, and we got it done in the end."

Moving to the other side of the world to pursue her rugby league ambitions was not without its challenges though. The most time Roche had previously spent away from home was three weeks and she arrived in a new country not knowing anyone there.

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I didn't know how it was going to pan out, how much game-time I was going to get, but I worked hard to get into the squad and continued to work hard to retain my has definitely been a year to remember.
Georgia Roche

Then there was having to adapt to the full-time environment, having been used to training twice a week around her day-job in the construction industry while playing for the Rhinos, and previously Castleford Tigers and Featherstone Rovers.

Nevertheless, Roche took all of it in her stride and is in no doubt she returns to the England set-up for this week's international - part of a double-header with the men's team, who face Tonga - as a much-improved player.

"It certainly wasn't easy," Roche said, reflecting on adapting to life in the NRLW. "The training load - we train two days a week, so that was doubled, and over there you're in three, four or sometimes five times a week ticking boxes and doing what you can.

"I had to get a lot fitter. It was the pace of the game, the intensity of the game, and the key things were getting a lot fitter and faster to fit in. Obviously, there's the climate and things with their winter being 23 degrees.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 24: Georgia Roche of the Knights kicks the ball during the NRLW Semi Final match between Newcastle Knights and Brisbane Broncos at McDonald Jones Stadium, on September 24, 2023, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)
Image: Georgia Roche's kicking skills are just one area she has been able to develop with full-time coaching in Australia

"There are a whole load of things [I improved]. I was fortunate enough at Newcastle to have a kicking coach and towards the back end of the year, I do believe my kicking improved a little bit, which was good for me."

Roche's former Leeds team-mate Fran Goldthorp and ex-York Valkyrie back row or centre Hollie-Mae Dodd both spent the 2023 season in the NRLW as well with North Queensland Cowboys and Canberra Raiders respectively, underlining the opportunities for English players in Australia.

On these shores, reigning Betfred Women's Super League champions York, who along with Leeds became the first teams in the competition to offer payments to players in 2023, have taken the first steps towards full professionalisation by signing Woman of Steel Sinead Peach, Tara-Jane Stanley and Liv Wood to full-time contracts.

For now, though, much of the rest of the BWSL remains amateur and Roche is optimistic the competition will progress to the same stage as the Australian competition where every team has their players on full-time contracts for the season.

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Highlights as York Valkyrie defeated Leeds Rhinos in the 2023 Betfred Women's Super League Grand Final.

"So many of the girls deserve that, so hopefully in the next few years that's something which comes in," Roche said.

"It's what these girls deserve, and hopefully some of the other clubs can follow what York are doing."

Watch every match of the 2024 Betfred Super League season, including Magic Weekend, the play-offs, and men's, women's and wheelchair Grand Finals, live on Sky Sports. Also stream on NOW.

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