St Helens captain and England Rugby League international since 2009, Jodie Cunningham is one of the sport’s most iconic players. Not only is she a star player in the Betfred Women’s Super League, Jodie is also an ambassador for the Rugby League World Cup 2021 where she also holds down a full time job as a Community Engagement Lead.
What was the first Live Event Hospitality programme that you attended, and what particular impressions did it make on you?
My first VIP hospitality event was probably at the Rugby League Challenge Cup 2018, it was fantastic to make a full day of the event having a sit down meal and drinks and also having a fantastic view of the game. In 2019 I was also fortunate enough to be invited to VIP for the Netball World Cup finals, experiencing a game I had enjoyed since I was a young girl from the best seats in the arena was something I will cherish for a long time.
Other than your own, what is your favourite Live Event[s] that you would encourage everyone to book when it goes o sale, and what makes it so special?
Glastonbury Festival is probably the best live event I have ever attended. When the festival starts it’s like entering a whole different world of people from all walks of life coming together to celebrate a festival of music. I was apprehensive about attending a music festival initially because I don’t have an extensive music knowledge but they are about so much more than music, the whole experience of music festivals from start to finish is amazing.
Who do you consider to be your business mentor or mentors, and what particular example[s] did the imprint on your business values?
Tom Brindle, Head of Growth at the RFL, has been my unofficial mentor for a number of years now, after being my assistant coach at England level for a number of years he then went on to be a fantastic support mechanism and sounding board in both my playing capacity but also in my transition to the administrative side of sport and my role working for Rugby League World Cup 2021.
What was the most significant ‘Sliding Doors’ moment in your career, and how did this impact you?
I think my sliding doors moment was probably my knee injury in 2017. I was playing in the Women’s domestic Rugby League competition when I snapped my Anterior Cruciate Ligament and damaged the cartilage in my knee. This is an injury requiring reconstructive surgery and 9-12 months out of sport. The Rugby League World Cup 2017 (RLWC2017) was being held in Australia just 5 months later and therefore this would put me out of contention for being selected and playing in that World Cup. Being part of the England squad for a number of years at this point I was distraught at the idea of missing out and therefore decide to rehab and work towards the World Cup without the operation. I was fortunate enough to get selected and compete in the RLWC2017 which is one of my biggest achievements. Off the back of that World Cup I then had the operation to reconstruct the ligament in my knee and faced a further 9 months out of the sport I loved. During this time through opportunities to speak about my experience in the World Cup, I was lucky enough to be asked by Jon Dutton, the CEO of RLWC2021, to become an ambassador for the RLWC2021 which lead on to me coming on board full time as the Community Engagement Lead for the tournament.
My career took a complete change from where it had been with no prior experience in sports administration or major sporting events. I have loved every experience being part of the fantastic World Cup team and hope to crown the experience with World Cup selection for England and hopefully a World Cup victory for England Women. All of this may not have happened if it wasn’t for my injury which at the time felt like my world had come crashing down around me but in fact it allowed me to build myself back up in a much better place than I had been before.
If you had the option to experience/live in one music video which would it be and why?
I think I’d pick Wanna Be by the Spice Girls. The Spice Girls were absolute superstars to me when I was a young girl and they just seem to have the best time as a group of friends together. I have my own close group of friends that was nicknamed ‘The Tribe’ when we were in high school because we were always together in a big group. We are all still best friends 13 years later, so I would have the Spice Girls and all my 'Tribe' in the video together.
What was your favourite televised live sport event or moment that you remember from childhood, why did it make such a lasting impression on you?
The Olympics for me are just a magical time for sport that comes around every 4 years. When I was a child I would have it on 24/7 and then my grandma would record the gymnastics in particular for me on VHS tape whilst I was in school. My one favourite moment from the Olympics growing up that sticks in my mind is Kelly Holmes winning her Olympic gold double in 2004 in Athens. That image of her crossing the line in complete amazement and delight that she had been able to achieve her dreams is something I’ll never forget.
Who was playing at the first concert you attended, where and when, and what do you remember of the experience?
My first concert I think was Britney Spears at the MEN arena. I just remember the passion of her adoring fans in the crowd and being amazed that the incredible Britney Spears was in the same room (massive arena) as me!
What was your first paying job and what impact, if any, did it have on you?
My first paying job was working as a receptionist on Sundays at a local Veterinary Centre at the age of 15. I loved animals from being little so the idea of working in the vets was so exciting for me but what sticks out the most is how terrified I would be when the phone rang and I knew I would have to answer and deal with the customer. It taught me a lot about customer service and gave me confidence for future roles that I had experienced lots of areas of responsibility at such a young age.
How has your upbringing and family experiences shaped who you are today?
I know most people think this, but my family really are the best. I’m the first grandchild on both sides and when I was born my Grandma quit her job so she could look after me whilst my Mum and Dad worked full time, she is honestly my hero and shaped me massively growing up, she’s like my third parent. Growing up my Mum and Dad gave me all the tools I needed to succeed in what I put my mind to and supported me every step of the way. Even now at the age of 29, I still rely heavily on the support of my Mum, Dad and wider family for the various challenges life and my Rugby League career throws at me. My Mum and Dad, despite having no Rugby League experience, both did their coaching qualification when I was a kid so they could help to set up a local team for me to play in and gave up their weekends for years to ferry me around to my various games and playing commitments. My Mum, Dad, Grandma and Aunty can be found at virtually every game I play at screaming from the stands, even when I was playing on the other side of the world in Australia, and it gives me so much comfort knowing they are always there for the ups and downs that elite sport inevitably provides.
What tough experience or time did you have to endure that taught you the value of money?
I think I only truly realised the value of money when I went to university. I wouldn’t say it was a tough time, it was a fantastic experience, but I think when you first have to support yourself and realise how much things really cost it is a massive eyeopener and made me appreciate everything my Mum and Dad did for me so much more.
If your 17-year-old self could see you now, what would she think and what advice would you pass back to your younger self??
At 17 I had just been selected in the senior England Women’s squad, I had no idea where that journey would take me or whether I would really ‘make it’. I think my 17 year old self would look at me now and be amazed what journey she was about to embark on. My advice to her would be to not give yourself such a hard time and enjoy all these incredible opportunities to play for your country. It’s so easy to be self-critical and not to be happy with how you are performing, but I started playing for the love of the sport and therefore I’d want my younger self to never let the pressure get in the way of that love.
What is your go-to karaoke song?
I honestly can’t stand karaoke which is probably a really unpopular opinion but I’m a terrible singer myself so would butcher most songs and I always think the original song artist sang it just fine, let’s leave them to it haha!
What are the three most rewarding podcasts, newspaper apps, or Instagram, Youtube and Twitter accounts you follow?
I am definitely a big podcast fan and my favourites have to be Jake Humphies and Damian Hughes ‘High Performance’ podcast. I love listening to incredibly successful sport and business people talk about what makes them such high performing individuals. I also love Freakonomics and the fascinating topics they cover from around the world. When I’m travelling to training or having my long soak after I’ve been bashed about during a game that is my ideal podcast time and makes me feel like I’m using my travel and soak time productively!
What non-curriculum subject should be required for anyone leaving school or university to understand fully before they enter the workforce?
I think there definitely should be more emphasis/support for the general life finances and things you need to know to run a home. Things like mortgages, rent, insurance, council tax, gas and electric contracts are all things every person has to have an understanding of when they grow up but nobody ever really teaches you these things it’s often a bit of trial and error.
If someone gave you a box that contained everything you have lost in life, what's the first thing you would search for?
I lost my Grandad when I was 9 so he would be the first thing I would look for. I didn’t start playing Rugby League until I was 12 and so my Grandad never got to see me play but I would love to tell him everything I have done and see how shocked he would be that his little granddaughter who constantly did cartwheels around the house went on to play Rugby League.
What is your worst habit?
Overthinking, which can often lead to indecisiveness. I am my worst critic whether that be in a work environment or on the rugby pitch which can be good to keep me always pushing to be better but equally can be distracting from the task at hand because I am too busy overthinking any mistakes I may have made.
To quote The Goo Goo Dolls, for you, ‘… the closest to heaven that I'll ever be …’ is where, with whom, when and doing what?
It’s cheesy to say but it’s on the rugby pitch with my teammates. Playing Rugby League with its physical and aggressive qualities means you have to put your body on the line each week for your teammates as well as going through brutal training to prepare your bodies for that physicality which brings you so close to the people you play with. That moment when you are wearing the England badge with pride, arm in arm with your teammates singing the national anthem is the most magical feeling I’ve ever experienced and makes all the hard work which goes into competing at that top level completely worth it.
Which person who you have met, or not yet met, will leave you feeling most starstruck?
In January 2020, the Rugby League World Cup 2021 draw was conducted at Buckingham Palace with the help of Prince Harry. As part of the day, we delivered a game of tag Rugby League on a specially made pitch on the grounds of Buckingham Palace, during which I got the opportunity to speak to Prince Harry about how important sport is to not just people’s physical health but also their mental health. The day went by so quickly but having that opportunity through my work with RLWC2021 was beyond my wildest dreams. I spent so long thinking about what I might say to Prince Harry but it all completely fell out of my head once I actually got the opportunity but still a brilliant experience.
You get to fly anywhere after the coronavirus to take a trip you've always wanted to make: Where are you going, with whom and what are you planning to do?
I have always wanted to go to Canada and hoped to maybe go out and watch the Toronto Wolfpack play in the Super League with my Mum and Dad but sadly the pandemic led to financial issues for the Wolfpack and they are no longer in Super League. Canada is such a beautiful place that I would still love to visit and I actually got engaged during lockdown so maybe whenever my partner and I get married we can go out there for our honeymoon, although I think he’ll prefer somewhere a little warmer.