THIS time last year, Amanda Wilkinson was in the process of whittling down 100 prospective players to form the Wigan Warriors squad for their first season in the Women’s Super League.

Fast forward to October 2018, and the Ulverstonian coach and her team were celebrating winning the title at their first attempt, edging out Leeds Rhinos 18-16 in the Grand Final.

Even now, Wilkinson finds it difficult to comprehend the dream season the Warriors enjoyed, but she hailed her side’s success as the culmination of a lot of hard work from a group playing simply for the love of rugby league.

“We had some talented players on the team, but we’re probably not the most talented team,” said Wilkinson. “But something those girls have, for me – and it gets me emotional just thinking about it – they never give up and their defence was absolutely incredible.

“That’s not taking away from the flair they attacked with, but they went out there and gave so much, we do forget they just do this as a pastime.

“They’re not full-time professionals and I can’t thank them enough. To put the win on the end of the season was outstanding and something I’d never even dreamt of.”

Wilkinson’s first sporting love was athletics, but it was through her husband Stuart – the former Ulverston amateur hooker who spent two seasons playing professionally for Barrow in the 1980s – she discovered a passion for rugby league.

The family moving to Leeds led to her taking rugby sessions at the school she worked at as a mid-day supervisor, snowballing to working for the City Council, coaching at amateur club Milford and working on the talent identification pathway, to a community position with Wigan.

Wilkinson’s background in athletics has proven helpful in her rugby coaching when it comes to identifying athletes who can succeed, while she is fascinated by the tactical and technical sides of the 13-man code.

Her players at Wigan being amateur has not stopped her from trying to give them as professional an environment as possible to work in either.

But Wilkinson is again trying to keep her team’s feet firmly on the ground rather than build up expectations after an amazing 2018.

“I reflect on what we aimed to do and what we achieved, and because we went beyond our expectations it’s a bit like ‘what is the next step?’,” said Wilkinson.

“For me, let’s take all of the positives from 2018 and make 2019 just as special, and the answer will come.

“It would be great to win it again and I’d like to get to the Challenge Cup final too, but we’ll get the little things right then anything can happen.”