‘I took unpaid leave to play in World Cup’

“It’s not financially viable for them to pay me while I’m away for five weeks so as much as I didn’t have to pay for the World Cup, I had to take five weeks of unpaid leave.”

Last Updated: 14/06/20 12:01pm

Danika Priim has not looked back after switching to rugby league in 2015
Danika Priim has not looked back after switching to rugby league in 2015

Danika Priim’s decision to switch to rugby league from union in 2015 could hardly have been better timed.

It is a journey which took her from Stanningley, to Bradford Bulls and now hometown club Leeds Rhinos at domestic level, and from making her England debut against France in Avignon in 2016 to playing at the Rugby League World Cup the following year.

The past five years have coincided with rapid growth in the women’s game too, but while Priim plays down any part she has played, the prop is still in awe of how much it has transformed during that period.

“I sometimes get a bit embarrassed because Super League has transitioned in the past five years, but women’s rugby league has been going on long before that,” Priim told the Golden Point podcast.

“I wouldn’t say I’m much of a pioneer because there are people who have paved the way before me, but in terms of coming from what we term a serious grassroots-level community sport to what is now practically professional minus the financial side has been such a journey.

“I’ve got from getting changed in the car, running onto the field and falling down a divot, getting back in the car and getting showered at home, to playing at Bolton as a triple-header and playing in a Grand Final at St Helens on Sky Sports.”

Making the switch

Priim’s first experiences of rugby came in primary school, but it was not until she attended Leeds Beckett University that she started playing seriously having spent her childhood years as a dancer instead.

Danika Priim on the charge for Leeds in the Women's Super League play-offs
Danika Priim on the charge for Leeds in the Women’s Super League play-offs

Playing in the 15-a-side code, the forward went on to captain Yorkshire and represent the North of England. However, she was drawn over to league by former England Women head coach Chris Chapman.

“I found the transition really easy and I got put at prop,” Priim said. “The only things I found was getting back 10 metres – which you have a new-found respect for the fitness in rugby league – and just learning to play in one half of the field.

“You don’t do that in rugby union, but I’m quite happy in rugby league as a prop where I’ve got maybe 10 or 15 metres either side of the posts and that’s where I stay.

“I’m so grateful I made the change and I’ll never regret anything I did. It was all for the best and I’ve got a few good memories and trophies from rugby league.”

Taking on the world

One of Priim’s best memories is playing for England at the 2017 World Cup in Australia, where the women’s tournament was held alongside the men’s competition.

All of the group matches and the semi-finals were played at Endeavour Field, home of NRL side Cronulla Sharks, while the final between New Zealand and the hosts took place ahead of the men’s decider at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.

It did not come without sacrifice though as Priim had to take five weeks of unpaid holiday from her teaching job to play in the World Cup, underlining the challenges many other Women’s Super League players face while they remain amateurs.

“I think back to the 2017 World Cup and I was head of PE at a school,” Priim said.

Danika Priim in action for England at the 2017 World Cup
Danika Priim in action for England at the 2017 World Cup

“It’s not financially viable for them to pay me while I’m away for five weeks so as much as I didn’t have to pay for the World Cup, I had to take five weeks of unpaid leave and that was one of the deciding factors.

“I’m not now deciding whether to accept my place in the World Cup, I’m looking at am I financially secure enough to play?

“Luckily, I got supported and I got various bits of financial help from sponsors and people, and I could do that. It’s that bit of added extra for the women.”

Looking to the future

Priim, who helped Leeds to a Super League and Challenge Cup double in 2019 after coming back from an ACL injury the previous year, believes it will not be long before top-level women players in this country start receiving some form of payment for playing.

Danika Priim helped Leeds to a league and cup double last year
Danika Priim helped Leeds to a league and cup double last year

And while the 35-year-old is in the latter stages of her career, she is determined to do her part to ensure women’s rugby league keeps growing when it comes time to hang up her boots.

“I’m at a stage now where I don’t say ‘no’ to anything, and I will speak to anybody about Women’s Super League and women’s sport – and the community game as well,” Priim said.

“We’ve got three leagues in the women’s game and if you get a chance to talk about it, you have to do it and try to convince people.

“I don’t know if I’d go into coaching, I don’t know if I’ve got the right mentality for it and it’s a very special breed of person.

“But we’ve just got to keep pushing and promoting this game, and we will start to grow and compete against the likes of Australia – and finally beat them.”

Source : Sky Sports