Finding a new path for Rugby League

Published by Phil Caplan
22 Sep 2021

Finding a new path for Rugby League

Andrea Dobson is a rugby league fanatic. She plays for Featherstone Rovers Women, is the recently appointed Rugby League Development Officer for Sheffield Eagles and has recently retired from a 16-year England international career. She certainly knows her way around rugby league.

“I’m absolutely made up to have been appointed to the role of rugby league development officer. The job is designed to increase participation in the city at all levels and in all formats of the game.  

“I’ve lived in the city for the last 15 years now, I obviously love the game, but I still travel up to train and play with Featherstone however there’s loads of potential here.”

The Rugby League World Cup will not feature Andrea as a player after her recent retirement, but it will present immense opportunities for her and colleagues to grow the game in Sheffield.

“The role virtually gives me a blank canvas, not least with the World Cup coming here for both wheelchair and with an England men’s fixture scheduled for Bramall Lane, and we intend to capitalise on that.

“It’s such an exciting opportunity for me to build on the work community clubs Sheffield Hawks and Forgers are doing and to help them extend their offer to more youngsters and women.”

Andrea has watched the sport grow and evolve and seen the additional opportunities now available.

“Rugby league has changed, and the focus isn’t solely on 13-a-side men’s full contact, train Tuesday and Thursday and play Saturday, it’s as much about how inclusive we can genuinely be, move with the times and to create an opportunity for everybody.

“The wheelchair profile is an example of that and, on the back of the international held here recently, we have set up set up a side, having been lucky enough to receive a grant to buy the chairs.

“The interest has been phenomenal to the extent that we’ve had to extend the planned sessions just to accommodate all who want to have a go.

“Post World Cup, I’m sure we’ll get even greater levels of interest in the sport here and on the back of the Eagles finally having their own facility at the Olympic Legacy Park – which will include foundation offices. A more stable home for rugby league in Sheffield will help us to plan activities and create even more buzz.”

The women’s game is never far from Andrea’s thoughts and her priority is to further boost the arm of the game that has given her so much success and enjoyment.

“The initial goals include forming an Eagles’ women’s team – there are plans to expand the women’s game into the Midlands and we want to be part of that - along with a club-based wheelchair side all in the same colours.

“There have been discussions about whether or not people will want to return to activity after the habit has been broken for so long because of the restrictions, but I’m firmly in the camp that thinks it will be the reverse and that they are itching to get back to it.”

The passing of time and the enforced lay-off due the pandemic has forced Andrea to consider her own playing career and make some tough decisions.

“It takes me longer to recover from games and although I’m conscious that you can be a long time retired, what I don’t want to be is that one who plays way too long and everybody says, ‘oh, she used to be alright, but she’s past it’ – I want to leave on a high.”

“I’m 34, started playing when I was 12 and haven’t had a season off apart from because of Covid and a lot of that time played union in the winter and league in the summer as well as for England, and the demanding training for that - it amounts to quite a lot physically.”

“We tragically lost our teammate, Natalie Harrowell at Rovers 18 months ago and a few of us senior players were looking at having one more season and a really good dig for her and getting some more 16-year-olds in to build for the future, but the pandemic scuppered that.

“This is now that season for Nat, but the job as development officer is such a good one it well help me with the transition out of playing – I can talk about rugby league all day, it’s my passion and I can sell it to anyone.”

As Andrea Dobson heads into a new phase of her career, she has the excitement of promoting rugby league in Sheffield, has been appointed as coach of Scotland Women, and is looking forward to the European Championships next year - there is no sign of rugby league losing one of its greatest assets – someone who just keeps giving.