Great Britain Lioness McIntosh to feature in new exhibition of rugby league pioneers

Halifax’s Lisa McIntosh, former captain of the Great Britain Lionesses who played in the winning team against Australia in 1996, will be among the players to have her story told as part of a new exhibition.

By Mark Berry
Friday, 10th June 2022, 2:33 pm
Updated Friday, 10th June 2022, 2:35 pm

‘Life with the Lionesses’, a heritage project which aims to raise awareness of the role models who pioneered women’s international rugby league, will be staging its debut exhibition at the York Festival of Ideas from June 18 to 19.

McIntosh started playing rugby league at Illingworth RLFC, before moving to Drighlington and earning a trial for the 1996 international squad.

Each of the women players had to raise their own funds to go on tour. “Some players got individual sponsors,” said McIntosh.

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Lisa McIntosh, third right, is pictured with fellow former Great Britain Lionesses Brenda Dobek, Donna Parker, Nikki Carter, Rebecca Stevens, Sam McLean, Julia Lee and Gemma Walsh.

Calderdale Council were brilliant – they sponsored me every time. We all helped each other to raise the money we needed by doing things like bucket collections at grounds.”

“We felt embarrassed at first but we became professionals. People used to give us lots of money – it was brilliant. Some people said ‘you shouldn’t have to do this’. Even the professional men supported us.”

She added: “[Training] really stepped up a gear and became more professional, with proper fitness testing. We were serious about our training but we had a great time and that built the team spirit for future tours as well.

“The first game we played against Australia we beat them and the crowd was really hard on us.

“We had practiced singing the national anthem before the game but we didn’t realise that there was a second verse and when the music kept playing we all just stood there looking at each other.”

But not everyone acknowledged the women’s achievement when they returned home. “Beating Australia was remarkable. But coming home you wouldn’t have known we’d won the series; it was as if we had just been on holiday.

“Nobody was waiting for us, no press. We just got off the plane and all went home.”

Following the 1998 tour to New Zealand the team realised that they needed to be more physically powerful.

Coach Jackie Sheldon secured funding to bring conditioners in and the players did a lot of fitness testing, with everyone being allocated a personal weight training programme.

“We gradually became a more professional outfit – stronger, leaner, fitter – that’s what we needed to compete,” said McIntosh, who went on to become an international coach.

The exhibition at the York Festival of Ideas will be situated at York Sport Village, part of the University of York Campus and is open from 10am to 5pm on June 18 and 19.