14 Nov 2022
Emotional Richards announces departure after England's semi-final defeat
Craig Richards called for greater professionalism of the women's game to get close to the likes of New Zealand
By Josh Graham at LNER Community Stadium
Craig Richards broke down in tears as the reality that he would not be able to take this England side forward hit home following a gut-wrenching 20-6 semi-final defeat to New Zealand.
Richards revealed the decision had already been made that someone else would coach the Lionesses from 2023 despite more than halving the gap to the tournament’s most successful side having been thumped 52-4 by the same opponents at the same stage in 2017.
Richards confessed that he feared he may have underestimated the enormity of the task in hand when he took the reins in January 2018 off the back of that result, but he soon had full belief that his players could go all the way, making it all the more painful when they fell short in what he announced was his final game in charge.
He said: “That decision was made a while ago. It won’t be me. I will support from afar at the club I work at and make them the best they can be.
“I will push the girls forward for club and country. One thing that won’t leave me is my passion for England and I will do what I need to do to strengthen this side. I want success and I’m really desperate for success.
“I remember when I got the job and somebody sent me over the videos of the last World Cup and I thought, ‘wow, what have I done?’
“One of the tasks initially was, ‘let’s just get close to them’. But a year or two in I thought let’s beat them.
“I thought we had a side to beat them and I thought we would. It’s not good enough to close the gap. I’ve spent five years trying to win a World Cup not trying to close a gap.”
?? Raecene McGregor crashes over for New Zealand's second try of the first half!#RLWC2021 #ENGNZL | @NZRL_Kiwis pic.twitter.com/aXYjjQURJu
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) November 14, 2022
Fran Goldthorp’s opener gave the hosts a rip-roaring start in front of a vocal York crowd of 7,139 but player of the match Mele Hufanga replied and proved to be an unstoppable threat all evening on the Kiwi Ferns’ right edge.
Raecene McGregor gave the three-time champions a two-point lead at half-time but further tries from Otesa Pule and Brianna Clark put the game beyond doubt.
Richards’ rallying cry was for the women’s game to head towards professionalism if England are serious about competing with the Jillaroos and New Zealand, the only two teams to have won the World Cup.
And although he knows all of his squad could cut it in the NRLW, Richards wants to see the Women’s Super League strengthened to drive standards on the international stage, with Leeds Rhinos the first to offer incremental payments to players.
He explained: “I can’t put into words how proud I am of them [the players]. I’ll reflect on what I’ve done. Could I have done anything more to close that gap and get us a win today? There’s some lessons for me to learn.
“I’m more upset for the girls than anything because I don’t know what more they could have done aside from slacking off work and training unemployed.
“Professionalism is the answer and I don’t know how we get that. I think they deserve it and I hope that’s the way it goes. Professionalism isn’t just about money it’s about behaviours.
“These guys [New Zealand's players] are going professional, so a decision has to be made whether you want that or not.
“I know that a lot of our players would go over there [to Australia] and thrive. But great clubs like York, Leeds, St Helens are not feeder clubs for the NRL.
“More work needs to be done to strengthen the competition to get close to these guys.”
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets