Dodd dances her way from ballroom to Raiders

From ballroom dancing, to becoming the youngest player to feature in a Challenge Cup Final just one day after her 16th birthday, to becoming the first English woman to sign with a Women's National Rugby League Premiership team.

That's Hollie-Mae Dodd's story.

"I was a ballroom dancer all my life and was born into it," said Dodd.

"My family did it, my mum did it and my sister did it too.

But then when she was in Year 7, one of her PE teachers encouraged her to go to an after school rugby league club and Dodd never looked back. She stopped dancing and fully committed to rugby league.

Whilst some might think that ballroom dancing to rugby league is a huge change, there are a number of parallels between the two.

"In ballroom dancing you have a partner and you work together as a team," said Dodd.

"That team environment has been really handy since coming over to rugby league and some of the skills, including having good footwork."

At just 19 years of age, Dodd will be one of the younger women competing in the NRLW this year, but she certainly has the experience. Not only did she play for the Castleford Tigers in the Challenge Cup Final but she has also played four years in the Women's Super League including for the York Valkyrie.

She has also represented her country.

Dodd represented England at the 2022 Women's Rugby League World Cup and that's when a few different clubs approached her about playing in the NRLW, including Canberra Raiders inaugural coach Darrin Borthwick.

"I was speaking to Bortho during the World Cup and I was very interested in what he had to say," said Dodd.

"He was super welcoming after the first phone call and I thought it was who I would want to play for in Australia.

For Dodd and her teammates, the significance of being part of the first ever Canberra Raiders women's team is not lost on them.

"As we all say, we are making history for the club," said Dodd.

"Everything we do is part of the history and the legacy for the club.

"It will be great to get out there and be the first to wear that green jersey and we can't wait to represent the badge."

Dodd is not the only English woman to be playing in the NRLW this year. She will also be joined by players like Georgia Roche and Francesca Goldthorp.

This is the legacy of last year's WRLWC. During that tournament, representatives from all the NRLW clubs were watching and it has seen a new group of women join the NRLW for the first time.

Unfortunately for Dodd and for England, they were eliminated from the tournament at the semi-final stage by New Zealand. But for Dodd, it was still a valuable experience.

"It was the longest camp I had ever been in and I loved being around the other women and bonding with them," said Dodd.

"Obviously we lost to New Zealand which is not what we had planned but we are seeing the gap start to close between England and some of the other countries.

"Hopefully every World Cup we get closer and we already have high expectations of where we want to finish in the next World Cup."

For Dodd this opportunity with the Raiders is all about experience and the opportunity to develop her skills.

"One day what I learn here might be transferable back and I can share with the women in England what I have learnt," said Dodd.

"It is also good to be in a semi-professional environment because this is the first time I have been able to fully commit to rugby league.

"I want to focus on my rugby league, develop as a player and then show other girls that they can follow in my footsteps."

Despite being from the north of England, where temperatures can drop well below zero, Dodd is still getting used to the Canberra cold.

"It is quite cold here actually," she said.

"But it is winter and the sun is shining; at home it would be wet and miserable.

"I'm missing summer and don't think I will have a summer for a while."

Hopefully a stellar season with the Raiders more than makes up for that.