After becoming a Grand Final winner at just 17, there will be few rugby league players as desperate to return to action as Leeds Rhinos Women’s Keara Bennett.
The teenager is arguably one of the club’s biggest success stories in recent years, playing her part in the Rhinos’ double-winning 2019 season whilst still studying for her A-Levels.
That instant success gave Bennett the taste for more, but the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent suspension of the Women’s Super League has so far stopped the former Featherstone Lion from building on a terrific debut season and continuing her remarkable development into one of the competition’s most exciting young talents.
But promise was almost never realised, with Bennett forced to stop playing rugby league at age 11 due to the lack of playing opportunities with girls’ teams at that time.
“I started playing rugby league with the boys at maybe 8 or 9, but when I got into high school I had to stop because there weren’t any full contact girls’ teams around me to go join,” explained Bennett.
“It wasn’t until later thanks to the work of the Foundation and trailblazers like Lois Forsell that more girls’ sides came about and I could get back into playing in the community game.
“Now having so many established Women’s and Girls teams out there for players is really positive, but we also have the pathways and opportunities to progress in the game which is vital too.”
On her path to joining the Rhinos Academy, Bennett got the chance to be coached by her soon to be mentor and Head Coach, Lois Forsell.
“When I was at Brotherton Bulldogs, Lois came to coach us with Leeds Rhinos Foundation, which was great and inspired us to see what we could go achieve in the game.
“She had a massive influence on me as I also play as a hooker and I looked up to her as a real role model to base my game on. Those sessions where we got to learn from the Rhinos and see the standard we needed to be at really pushed me on and inspired me.
“I loved playing community rugby both at Brotherton and Featherstone Lions and it gave me the opportunity to understand my capabilities and the drive to progress onto bigger pathways like the ETP programme and eventually the Rhinos U19 squad.
As a Women’s Super League star, it’s now Bennett’s turn to act as an inspirational figure for young girls to look up to on their rugby league journey. It’s a role which Bennett, having already coached with Leeds Rhinos Foundation on Junior Development Days, is more than happy to take on.
“It’s really important for me to coach with junior clubs, because at the end of the day we are proof that you can reach the top and we must provide more opportunities for girls to develop and reach that level.
“It’s going against all gender bias and stereotypes that even in such a physical sport, women are achieving so much and hopefully we can keep breaking down those barriers and showcasing our talent.
“For me, playing on live television with the pressure of representing Leeds Rhinos was something I thrived on and having that feeling of being part of that collective success is part of why I love playing this sport.”
“It wasn’t long ago that I was coming up through the ranks and hopefully I can give back and help more girls fulfil their dreams of playing Rugby League.”
To find out how to get involved with Women and Girls Rugby League in Leeds, please CLICK HERE.