It was little over two weeks ago that England’s World Cup-winning captain Katy Daley-Mclean should have been playing her last game for Loughborough Lightning in the Tyrrells Premier 15s. With the sport on hold, she has adapted to life under lockdown and is now at a new club readying herself for the start of a new campaign – whenever that may be.
Daley-Mclean has made the move to the north-west to join newly-formed Sale Sharks Women as a player-coach for the next three years following last month’s announcement that the club will be entering the Premier 15s from next season.
Speaking to Salford Now, Daley-Mclean said: “It’s an exciting and rare opportunity. It’s not very often that you get to work with a team from the beginning.
“With the new women’s side at Sale, it was a chance to create something special and there was no way I could have turned the opportunity down.
“The Director of Women’s Rugby Darren Lamon and [co-owner] Michelle Orange were really clear on what they wanted to achieve and that got me excited.”
In this current climate, setting up a new side isn’t the easiest task in the world, but Daley-Mclean made it clear that for now, it is all about laying the foundation.
“Being competitive in our first season is important. These aren’t easy times to be building a new team but we’ve got to build our programme with some strong people and strong processes,” she explained.
“Darren has gone out, done his research and found players that can really add something to Sale Sharks Women.
“You just have to look at Molly [Kelly] – she’s a young girl and has already been capped by Wales and has her whole rugby career ahead of her. Hopefully she’ll be able to use this opportunity to develop both as a player and down the line as a leader.”
As part of her contract at the club Daley-Mclean will also be a coach, and at the age of 34 she realises that with the sun setting on her illustrious playing career, she needs to keep her options open and is looking forward to the new challenge.
Daley-Mclean explained: “A couple of years ago I said I never wanted to go into coaching but it’s amazing how things change. The opportunity to give back, the opportunity to work with our younger players is something different.”
Before being awarded her first professional contract by the Rugby Football Union in 2017, the South Shields native was a primary school teacher. She acknowledged there is an overlap between teaching and coaching.
When asked whether or not she would be a nice coach or a tough one to please, Mclean laughed: “The best coaches I had were the ones that were honest and supportive. They also asked for consistency and set high standards. That is something that I will look to do too.”
Once given the all-clear, the women’s squad will have access to the same facilities as the men at Carrington but for Daley-Mclean it’s all about doing as much as she can from home in the meantime.
“Training at start was easier as lockdown was for three to six weeks but as time has gone on, it has got a little harder,” Daley-Mclean said.
“I’m really lucky that I live next to a park and the weather has been nice, but I would love to do team drills and play some games in training.”
With the north-west being a hotbed for rugby league, some may have doubts over whether or not the Sale Sharks Women’s project will work. Daley-Mclean, however, is hopeful that the new setup at the club will attract more girls to rugby union.
“For me it’s really exciting. There is a crossover between the two codes and the seasons are slightly different. My hope is that girls will want to get behind us and give union a try,” she explained.
Daley-Mclean also thinks that one day the women’s game can turn professional. She said: “I’d like to hope that in the next 10 years [it will turn professional]. We don’t want to run before we can walk and we need to be in a position where most of the teams could do it.
“You want to see loads of really good games to keep growing the league, which in turn will attract more coverage and that is somewhere I’d love to see the game.”
Image credit: PA Images