Rugby League World Cup: England pin hopes on wheelchair team to clinch a trophy anfter men and women knocked out
The Wheelchair side are the last home side left in the torunament after thumping Wales 125-22 on Sunday to clinch a spot in the final.
The Women were knocked out 6-20 by New Zealand in their Monday night semi-final.
The Men went out on Saturday, suffering an agonising 26-27 golden point defeat to Samoa.
The Wheelchair team face favourites France in the final on Friday night in Manchester.
The French booked their place in the final with an 84-40 win over Australia.
England’s Women scored first through Leeds Rhinos centre Fran Goldthorp and were only a couple of points adrift at the break, but two tries early in the second half sealed New Zealand’s ticket to Old Trafford.
The Kiwi Ferns were too good and realistically they and Australia are still some way ahead of England thanks largely to the professional NRLW competition.
But England are making progress and can hold their heads high after a positive tournament on and off the field.
Tears spilled from Jodie Cunningham’s two black eyes as she reflected on England’s heartbreaking exit from the World Cup and the changes required to continue to bridge the dwindling gap to the sport’s southern-hemisphere giants.
Amid the gut-wrenching disappointment – made more acute by Craig Richards’ announcement to his players in the dressing room afterwards that he will be departing as coach with immediate effect – is an acknowledgement of the progress made by the women’s game in recent times.
“We have clearly narrowed the gap and I genuinely believe that on another day we would have beaten New Zealand,” said an emotional Cunningham, who played in the England team beaten 52-4 by New Zealand at the same stage of the competition in Sydney in 2017.
“We’ve done so much hard work without being professional, and I still think we had the ability to do it, but you can’t avoid the difference it would make if we were semi-professional or professional players, because we would have the time, resource and ability to invest.
“The only consolation for us is that the sport will be in a better place for what we’ve done.
"I’m sure there were young girls in the crowd who have been inspired and who will go on and play and beat the Aussies and the Kiwis. This squad has the ability to do that in a few years’ time as well.”
Richards’ announcement of his departure clearly caught his squad off guard, with a tearful Cunningham admitting she was “absolutely devastated” by the news, adding: “Everyone is distraught – Craig has done so much for this squad as a person as well as a coach, and he will be a big miss.”
For St Helens’ 33-year-old Amy Hardcastle, one of the stars of the women’s tournament with her pink hair and surging runs from centre, the pain of another semi-final exit will eventually be eased by an acknowledgment of the progress made since she first took up the sport at the amateur bastion of Siddal near Halifax.
“We’re trying to build the game in England and the inspiration we are giving to the younger generation is unbelievable,” Hardcastle said.
“I’m quite emotional but I’m really proud of what these girls have done for our community. The views we’ve had on TV and the crowds are just phenomenal.
“Regardless of the final scoreline, we are leaving a real legacy after this World Cup.”