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Challenge Cup final: Ex-St Helens player Shona Hoyle aims to be thorn in old team’s side for Leeds Rhinos | Rugby League News

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Shona Hoyle was a Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup winner with St Helens and a try-scorer in their victory over Leeds Rhinos at Wembley last year. On Saturday, however, she will be part of the Rhinos team trying to stop Saints making it four in a row.

The England forward moved across the Pennines to Leeds ahead of the 2024 season and there was perhaps an inevitability she would come up against St Helens for her new club – in a game with one of the sport’s major honours on the line – at some point.

Hoyle is not surprised it has happened in the Women’s Challenge Cup final as the sides meet in the showpiece game for the third year in a row, and, while she bears no ill will to her former team-mates, there will be no chance of her going easy on them.

“I’m really excited,” Hoyle said. “I knew they’d get there because they work hard for each other, and they’ve got that mentality of professionalism and performing in really important games.

“I knew this would be the opportunity, but there are no bad vibes. I really want them to perform, and I want us to perform. I’m ready to go, and I’m ready to fight for that win.

“For the Leeds girls it wasn’t great to end on that result [last year], but it’s all happened now and we’re ready to win this time. I’m not going there to lose and we’re all going to fight for that win.”

The Halifax native’s move to Leeds was eased by the fact there were already a couple of familiar faces there in fellow ex-Saint Amy Hardcastle and her former Bradford Bulls and England team-mate Lois Forsell, who is now head coach of the Rhinos.

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Highlights of St Helens’ 12-6 win over Leeds Rhinos in their recent Betfred Women’s Super League match

Hoyle was able to quickly adapt to her new surroundings, though, and hit the ground running with six tries in her first seven appearances prior to suffering a finger injury which has sidelined her since last month.

“I’m quite good at adapting myself to new situations and I find it very comfortable,” Hoyle said. “I played with Lois with Bradford and England and felt very comfortable.

“I miss the girls loads at Saints, but my life is a lot easier and the girls at Saints understand that with the travel I was doing, so they understood the reasons I moved to Leeds.

“It was the right thing to do and I’m really excited to go out with the girls.”

I’ve been in a few Challenge Cups now and last year topped them all.

Shona Hoyle

There could hardly be a better occasion for Hoyle to make her comeback from injury than Wembley Stadium though, never mind it being against her previous club, and the memories of last year’s groundbreaking game rank among the best of her career.

That the women’s final has joined the men’s on one of rugby league’s grandest stages makes it a far cry from her first taste of Challenge Cup glory with Bradford seven years ago when they beat Featherstone Rovers in somewhat more humble surroundings at the home ground of York community club Heworth.

As someone who began playing prior to the formation of the Betfred Women’s Super League in 2017, Hoyle is delighted by the huge strides the women’s game has made in recent years and is in no doubt playing the cup final at Wembley is taking it to even greater heights.

“I’ve been in a few Challenge Cups now and last year topped them all,” Hoyle said. “I’ll never take away from the previous wins, but it makes it a bit more exciting for the youth coming through.

Picture by Will Palmer/SWpix.com - 12/08/2023 - Rugby League - Betfred Women's Challenge Cup Final - Leeds Rhinos v St Helens - Wembley Stadium, London, England - Shona Hoyle of St.Helens is tackled by Caitlin Casey of Leeds Rhinos
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Hoyle was in the St Helens team that beat Leeds at Wembley last year

“Playing at Wembley, more teams will want to do that, so they’ll invest in players that need investing in.

“I feel it’s really important we keep up the development stages at different clubs, get young girls playing, coming through the system, and hopefully playing for a Super League team.

“The opportunities are greater and the more people who hear us and see us on TV, and see us performing at the highest level, they’ll want to be there.”

Leeds, winners of the Women’s Challenge Cup in 2018 and 2019, have come out on the losing side against St Helens on the two previous occasions they have faced them in this match and in the 2021 Women’s Super League Grand Final as well.

Picture by Olly Hassell/SWpix.com - 24/05/2024 - Rugby League - Betfred Women's Super League Round 4 - St Helens v Leeds Rhinos - The Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens, England - Amy Hardcastle of Leeds is tackled by St Helens
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Leeds were narrowly beaten by St Helens in the Women’s Super League last month

The Rhinos were runners-up in both finals last year, losing to York Valkyrie in the Women’s Super League Grand Final, and their most recent game against St Helens in the league saw the hosts hold on for a 12-6 win.

Hoyle, who returns to the Leeds team for the final along with Bethan Dainton and Ruby Enright, expects a similarly close-fought game to last month’s encounter.

“We had a couple of players out, so it will be great to get the girls back and what a great game of rugby league it was,” Hoyle said. “That’s what it’s all about and what it will be all about this weekend.

“It will be a really tight contest and really aggressive from both sides. That’s what I love and thrive in, and most of the girls do.”

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 with NOW.



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