Six years after swapping sequins for scrums, Hollie-Mae Dodd is relishing the prospect of becoming England’s first fully-professional female rugby league player when she joins up with her new club Canberra Raiders next month.
The 19-year-old, who gave up a promising career as a ballroom dancer after being tempted to try out for Castleford Tigers, is no stranger to making history having appeared in the 2019 Women’s Challenge Cup final at the age of just 16.
Now, Dodd is preparing to blaze a trail of a different kind after winning the race with equally sought-after Leeds Rhinos duo Georgia Roche and Fran Goldthorp to land a two-year deal in Australia’s NRLW.
“I dreamed of being a professional rugby league player for a long time but I didn’t really think it was possible,” Dodd told the PA news agency.
“It means such a lot to be the first England player to go over there and become a full-time athlete, and hopefully it will show the way for so many other female players to do the same.”
Her move caps a remarkable career trajectory for Dodd, who moved on to help York Valkyrie clinch the League Leaders’ Shield last season, before playing an integral role in England’s run to the World Cup semi-finals.
“I started playing rugby when I went to high school,” said Dodd. “I used to be a ballroom dancer but a few teachers told me to go and try out at Cas. Quite a lot of team-mates still tell me I’ve got fancy ballroom feet.”
In a continuing sign of the development of the domestic women’s game, Valkyrie joined defending champions Leeds Rhinos in becoming the first teams to announce they would pay win bonuses for the first time this year.
Dodd bade an emotional farewell to her York team-mates after starring in last weekend’s win over St Helens, while Rhinos pair Roche and Goldthorp look increasingly likely to follow in her footsteps by confirming deals Down Under next week.
“They’re like family at York and I really struggled to tell the girls that I was leaving,” added Dodd. “I just hope it sends a message to girls at the club and in the city that they can follow suit.
“I’ve never been to Australia or many other places, but I can’t wait to get out there. Being fully professional will 100% benefit my game. I can’t wait for it to become a full-time job.”