The RFL today pays tribute to Gemma Walsh, a former captain of England Women who has been a key figure in the development of the women’s and girls’ game for two decades, and who has announced her retirement ahead of the start of the Betfred Women’s Super League season later this month.
Gemma was one of the pioneers who played in England Women’s first Test in 2007 against France – she has heritage number 6 – and enjoyed an outstanding career for club and country, the latter including appearances in the 2008 and 2013 World Cups.
She was steeped in the game as her father, David, played professionally for Wigan and Blackpool Borough. Gemma followed in his footsteps and led the Warriors to the Women’s Super League title in 2018.
She is married to Emily Rudge, the current England captain, and had left Wigan to join her at St Helens for the 2020 season – only for Covid-19 to intervene.
“After 21 years I think it’s finally time to hang up my boots once and for all and say goodbye to the game that has given me so much throughout the years,” Gemma explained.
“Unfortunately, I picked up an injury in pre-season and it feels like my body has had enough and I feel the time has now come to give it a well-earned rest.
“I have loved every minute of my time playing the game I love. I will be forever thankful to all the players, coaches and backroom staff that helped make my journey as enjoyable as it has been.
“They say don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing for the foreseeable.”
Thomas Brindle, the RFL’s Head of Growth and the General Manager of the BWSL, also worked with Walsh in the England set-up.
“Gemma has been one of the most significant figures in Women’s Rugby League during the major developments of the last couple of decades,” he said.
“She was a fine player, and demonstrated that on numerous occasions at domestic and international level, captaining her club and her country – and there’s a good argument that for a while she was one of the best players in the world.
“It’s cruel that the disruption caused by Covid-19 robbed her of a farewell season with Emily at St Helens, but she has left a major mark on Women’s Rugby League.”