CARRIE Roberts came back to haunt her former side as York Valkyrie began the defence of their Betfred Women’s Super League title with a last-gasp 20-16 victory against St Helens.

The Valkyrie were in real danger of losing a first league match since July 2022, which had ironically also come against Saints, after the visitors’ second-half comeback had obliterated the 12-point advantage they had accumulated before the break.

Director of rugby Lindsay Anfield had called for her side to cut out their unforced errors, but whilst their first half had been disciplined, their second proved an entirely different affair as they seemingly gave penalties and field position away at will.

Interchange Katie Mottershead brought Saints onto the scoreboard seven minutes after the break, paving the way for Leah Burke and Rachel Woosey to fire the visitors in front for the first time with just six minutes left to play.

It was firmly last chance saloon for the Valkyrie, but they showed their grit, Roberts finishing into the right corner after Sade Rihari’s sublime delayed pass to survive the first true test of their credentials by the skin of their teeth.

RECAP: York Valkyrie 20-16 St Helens

Anfield made two changes from the side that sailed into the Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup semi finals last weekend, with Liv Gale returning from a broken rib to partner Rihari in the halves, and Jas Bell preferred to Rhiannion Marshall at loose forward.

Kelsey Gentles was back on the interchange bench after illness to make her first league appearance in 18 months after the birth of her daughter, who fittingly was her mascot for the fixture.

Saints also fielded their heavyweights, their starting line-up including England captain Jodie Cunningham, Vicky Whitfield and Tara Jones, whilst half-back Faye Gaskin made her 50th appearance for the club.

The Valkyrie started on the front foot, with Roberts tackled high on halfway, but the visitors were left breathing a sigh of relief as Tara Jane Stanley’s kick on the last rolled narrowly out of reach as her teammates queued up on the left edge.

Holding on Bell then presented Anfield’s side with another glorious opportunity to open the scoring on the 10-minute mark, but Kershaw could not hold onto the ball as it was worked along the line in her direction.

It was almost inevitable that another Saints error would set up the field position for the Valkyrie to break the deadlock seven minutes later, a loose pass seeing Rihari find Roberts, who touched down into the right corner against her former side.

Stanley was wide from the tee, and could also not convert from her next effort four minutes later after a neat right-side shift saw Roberts feed Kershaw on the overlap to score into the same corner.

York Press: Winger Emma Kershaw was among York's first-half scorers.Winger Emma Kershaw was among York's first-half scorers. (Image: Craig Hawkhead Photography.)

Such was York’s dominance, it took until the half-hour for St Helens to make their first foray past their 20-metre line, but Eboni Partington was under Gaskin’s kick on her try-line, doing well to avoid conceding a goal-line drop-out under pressure in the process.

Consecutive penalties for high tackles saw York threaten to extend their lead further, but Marshall’s loose offload presented the visitors back possession on their 10-metre line.

However, they made no mistake from their next opportunity, gifted by a ball spill, and then offside inside the Saints half, with Marshall held up next to the posts before a neat left-side shift saw the ball find Renouf, who took two defenders with her as she fell to her knees and touched down into the corner.

The visitors looked to provide an immediate response after Rihari let the kick-off slip through her fingers, but the Valkyrie were able to pass a first test of their try-line defence with relative ease, taking in a deserved 12-point lead at the break.

However, if York’s first half had proved to be one of discipline, they appeared an entirely different team after the break.

A high tackle by Gentles on halfway helped orchestrate a disastrous spell just five minutes into the new half, with Woosey’s pass then patted dead before Cunningham won a penalty for a high tackle inside the 10-metre line.

And there was a six-again thrown in for good measure before Mottershead raced out of dummy half from close range to score to the right of the posts.

Ann Taylor added the extras to halve the deficit, but if Saints thought that the Valkyrie would just roll over, they were mistaken, with Liv Wood leading the charge as they were pushed over 10 metres back after having won a penalty for offside on the 40-metre line.

York’s own penalty for the same infringement saw them hopeful of extending their lead, but Bell was held-up before a gaping hole in the visitors’ right edge defence went ignored as the ball was run on the last tackle.

Instead, another high tackle paved the way for St Helens to hit back again the hour, Burke finishing off a flowing move into the left corner as she took the final pass one-handed.

The Valkyrie crucially added the next points to the board, a push on Renouf allowing Stanley to eke out their advantage from a 20-metre penalty.

But as soon as they had found themselves four points in front, the Valkyrie were behind for the first time.

Gale’s ball spill handed Saints a scrum on the 40-metre line, with nobody able to lay a hand on first receiver Woosey as she turned on the afterburners and raced to the left corner to level the scores with six minutes left to play.

York Press: Carrie Roberts sealed the points at the death from Sade Rihari's sublime delayed pass.Carrie Roberts sealed the points at the death from Sade Rihari's sublime delayed pass. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

A stunning conversion looked to have been enough to settle the tie in the visitors’ favour, but there was just enough time for York to take a last stab at proceedings.

Stanley was able to gather Gaskin’s poor kick just inside her own half before drives from Marshall and Owen drew defenders infield, allowing Rihari the space to find Roberts, who just managed to touch down and send the home fans into raptures.

The full-back then added the extras with 30 seconds left on the clock to seal a thrilling victory and hand the Valkyrie a perfect start to their title defence.

YORK VALKYRIE: Stanley, Partington, Renouf, Roberts, Kershaw, Rihari, Gale, Wood, Hetherington, Stimpson, Owen, Andrade, Bell.

INTERCHANGES: Marshall, Gentles, Sharp, Eastwood

TRIES: Roberts (17, 78), Kershaw (21), Renouf (35)

GOALS: Stanley 2/5

ST HELENS: Salihi, Hook, E. Stott, Woosey, Burke, Taylor, Gaskin, Crowl, Jones, Whitfield, Travis, Rudge, Cunningham.

INTERCHANGES: Williams, D. Stott, Mottershead, Sutherland

TRIES: Mottershead (47), Burke (60), Woosey (74)

GOALS: Taylor 2/3

POINTS SEQUENCE: 4-0, 8-0, 12-0, 12-4, 12-6, 12-10, 14-10, 14-14,14-16, 18-16, 20-16.


YORK’S STAR WOMAN: Carrie Roberts. Two tries and an assist from the experienced centre who will surely be a real asset for the Valkyrie this season.

REFEREE: Warren Turley