AMANDA Wilkinson has hailed the rapid progress made by Wigan Warriors Women in their first season as they prepare to do battle with Leeds Rhinos in this Saturday’s Women’s Super League Grand Final.

Ulverstonian Wilkinson was named head coach of the Cherry & Whites’ women’s side when it was launched last November, and she has overseen an impressive campaign which saw Wigan finish second in the table and reach the Challenge Cup semi-finals.

The 44-year-old, whose day-job is community marketing and group sales executive for the club, admits she did not have such lofty expectations for the fledgling team at the start of 2018 and put their success down to the close bond the squad have formed.

“At the start, we really didn’t think we’d come so far in such a short space of time,” said Wilkinson.

“Over 100 girls turned up for trials, but to start from scratch, to building a squad of 28 that have taken us all the way to the Grand Final - that was never in my thoughts.

“I just didn’t want us to finish bottom this year - and we’ve ended up one point off top spot.

“They’re a close-knit team who give everything for each other. Every time they play, they leave their bodies on the pitch and that’s all you can ask for as a coach.”

Wilkinson’s interest in rugby league stems from being married to former Barrow player and coach Stuart Wilkinson, and from initially not following the sport - she did, however, excel in athletics at school - she has gone on to become a pioneer for women in coaching.

She was the Warriors’ first female community development officer when she took on the role in 2006, having previously held a similar position at Saturday’s opponents Leeds.

So it is a strange quirk of fate this weekend’s Grand Final will be against her former employers, who Wigan edged out 23-22 on their own patch last month, having lost to the Rhinos in the home league fixture and the Challenge Cup semi-finals.

The clash at Manchester Regional Arena (kick-off 1pm) comes just a few hours before Wigan’s men take on Warrington Wolves across the city at Old Trafford in the Super League Grand Final and while Wilkinson is excited to be part of it, she intends to keep her team’s feet firmly on the ground ahead of the big day.

“It’s exciting and a little bit of history will be made on Saturday,” said Wilkinson.

“It’s great to be part of it, but this week we’ll look to go into training and do what we always do, enjoy the occasion on the day and make sure we stay focused.”