With the Covid-19 situation ongoing, it’s currently a tough time for everyone. But for Wakefield Trinity Ladies, the timing has been particularly frustrating. After a grueling pre-season led by Francis Maloney and his team behind-the-scenes, the Ladies were all but prepared to start their second season in Super League. Of course, matters out of their control meant they never got the opportunity to do so.
We caught up with Ladies Captain, Dani Swaine, who feels the squad will come back “fitter and stronger than ever” when they get the chance to return to action!
Firstly, how are you keeping busy during this lockdown period?
For me, personally, I feel busier than I was before! We train on Mondays and Wednesdays on a Zoom session and then we have little challenges in which we set amongst ourselves. We have to do at least one 5k run a week and then one of our younger players, Maddie Hirst, sets us another two challenges as well. I think we are going to come back fitter and stronger than ever.
I have read recently that you work as a Yorkshire Ambulance dispatcher – how did this role come about and what has it been like working for the NHS throughout the Pandemic?
I got into it through my partner, she worked for the service. It was a completely different role for me as before that I was working as a custody officer in a magistrates court – which I did for 10 years. So, I started as a call-taker five years ago, progressed to a dispatcher and now I am a team leader at the York control room for the Ambulance service. It can be really challenging at times, but I try and remind myself how lucky I am that life has not changed too much. I am still fortunate enough to go to work and earn a wage, but what happens at work, I try and leave at work and when I come home, I focus on my home life.
I know that you have been working a lot of night shifts recently, is it a struggle to find that work, Rugby League and social balance?
Definitely! Sometimes, I do not know how I do it. Unfortunately, I do miss training throughout the week when I am on night shifts which can be a struggle, but I always make sure I do personal training sessions at home. However, I am rather fortunate in the sense that I can get shifts swapped for gamedays, but sometimes, if I am on nights, I stupidly do play. This means I have to dash home, get a few hours sleep, play rugby, shower, change into my uniform and go straight back to work for another night shift. But, I do it because I love the game and stopping has never been in the question.
Throughout these unprecedented times, as the team captain do you feel an extra responsibility to keep the team motivated and the moral high whilst the game is on hold?
I found it very difficult at the beginning because as a nation, we have never experienced lockdown like this. So, it was a struggle and I did feel responsible, especially after the first couple of weeks, as players were struggling, being furloughed and slowly drifting apart, which makes it very easy to stay at home and lock yourself away. But like I mentioned, Maddie Hirst has really stepped up and after realising that I was working, she took it on herself to create the challenge system, of which I am really grateful.
Taking you back right to the start now – what is your personal earliest memory of Rugby League?
It was 1999 for Bradford Bulls under-16’s. I remember as a 15-year-old girl it is your worst nightmare being stood at the end of the training field being picked for a team just hoping and praying I was not picked last. Fortunately, I was not and have never looked back since. It is such a privilege to play Rugby League amongst a team of women and from starting in 1999, seeing how far the game has come, it has been such a journey.
Who introduced you to the Rugby League World?
My Dad! He played the game, so as a child I spent a lot of Saturdays playing in the park watching my Dad play rugby. After that, I remember watching my brother play for his school team and thought I would give it a go.
Was there any particular player that inspired you in your early stages of entering the sport?
It would have to be Lisa McIntosh! Not my people know her name, especially in this generation, but she is such an amazing person, on and off the field. She has always kept everyone going and is definitely someone who I look up to.
You started your Rugby League career in your hometown of Bradford – how much of your debut do you remember and what was running through your mind as you walked out for the very first time?
“What the hell am I doing!” It was not too bad when I played at under-16 level as I was one of the bigger players, but as a 16-year-old it was such a big step playing in an open-age women’s team. I think that because I remember that feeling so much, I am always conscious when it does happen to the younger players now. However, these young players at Wakefield have absolutely no fear. I still remember dreading that first tackle and first run-in, but at that moment, there is no going back.
Throughout your career, you have enjoyed tours with both Yorkshire and England – for the average player being called up for their country is a dream come true – what was your experience with England U21’s?
It was such an honour to tour France and Russia for your country. Russia left me absolutely speechless as it is a place not many people get to go in their lifetime, but it was an unbelievable experience and something that I will treasure forever.
After appearing for one club your whole career, a switch across West Yorkshire was on the horizon – what were your initial feelings towards moving to Wakefield and how did the move come about?
From that final whistle in the 2017 Challenge Cup final, I had a little bit of time out of the game. Then I remember going to watch Bradford play Leeds in a friendly, which gave me itchy feet. I had already done my time at Bradford and said that I would never play for another club, however, I felt it was time for a new challenge. I had already moved to Pontefract, which made Wakefield my local team. At first, I was not too sure if I wanted to keep competing. However, I wanted to get back into training and that was the plan with Wakefield. At the time, Wayne [Hirst] felt I could bring some experience to the team and next minute I remember getting kitted up ready to go on. From that moment, I have not looked back and have been very fortunate to play a lot of minutes for Wakefield.
After joining Wakefield in 2018, you went onto win the Women’s Championship League Leaders’ Shield in your first season – where does this rank in terms of career achievements?
It was a great feeling! I walked into what already was a well-established side. I do not, personally, feel that I brought anything to it other than the belief that they could go on to achieve what they did. In my eyes, they did it all themselves, we were a very close-knit team with a great work ethic, which, in the end, got us the wins.
Your performances that season helped you secure the armband for the 2019 season, with then-head coach Wayne Hirst describing you as a “born leader” – has leadership always come naturally to you?
I am not too sure where it as come from, to be honest. I think it might the fact that I cannot stay quiet. If something is not working, I do not necessarily say that it is wrong, I like to problem-solve, which involves finding a way to make something better. Also, I think self-belief is huge, making sure that people know that they can achieve what they set out to do.
As you look back after just under 20 years in the game, how far do you believe Women’s Rugby League has come in that time and what do you believe are the next steps in promoting the game even further?
It is unbelievable! When I tell people about the cost that came with the game, back then, we did not have the luxury of sponsors, everything was funded. Sometimes, we turned up to pitches which were not cut or marked out, but you just got on with it. However, when you see the women’s game now, we’re getting great crowds and sometimes you get people watching who are not relatives or friends of the players, they are genuinely interested in the women’s game.
Final question, the club has come a long way in a short amount of time – what are your personal and the teams aims and expectations for when Rugby League resumes?
We learnt a harsh lesson last season, we can’t deny that, but we just want to compete and I think we will this season. We are not being unrealistic, we’re not setting unachievable targets, we’re going for a mid-league finish, but we need to keep working hard. Also, I am looking forward to working with Franny Maloney this season, he has got so much experience which he can pass on and whatever happens this season, we will be so grateful as we have worked so hard in pre-season and lockdown to the point where we are ready to get out there now and show the fans what we can do.