St Helens representatives in England women's RL squad touch down in Papua New Guinea

The England women's squad receive a warm welcome in Papua New Guinea
The England women's squad receive a warm welcome in Papua New Guinea

England Women's RL coach Craig Richards says the players were shocked by the reception they received when they arrived in Papua New Guinea for their pioneering two-match tour.

The 23-strong squad - including seven representatives from St Helens - flew into Goroka, the venue for Saturday's first Test, and witnessed first hand the passion for rugby league on the islands where it is the national sport.

"It was unbelievable," said Richards. "We've seen footage of the England Knights' tour to PNG and I thought I was prepared for it but every street was packed with people wanting to see us and wave to us.

"What jumps out is how genuine it is as well, it really is a rugby mad place.

"As we were landing you looked out of the window and saw loads of kids playing rugby on fields we wouldn't even walk on,

"It was something you've got to see to believe and appreciate. We feel blessed to be here.

"The girls are in shock but loved it at same time, they've not stopped talking about it.

"It was one of those surreal experiences, to see people who seem to have very little but are so happy because they've got rugby league in their lives."

The tourists spent a week in Brisbane preparing for the trip and will take in community work during their stay by visiting local schools and hospitals.

"The players are going to be role models for some of the young girls watching the game," Richards said. "It is probably bigger than rugby league to be fair.

"The school was due to have a day off but, because we are in town, the kids decided they want to go into school and meet the girls."