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DMP Sharks: 'There's never an incentive to come and play for us'

By Lucy Lomax
Cara Cookland of Durham Mowden Park Sharks in action during the WOMEN'S ALLIANZ PREMIER 15S match between DMP Durham Sharks and Harlequins at the Northern Echo Arena, Darlington on Saturday 26th February 2022.(Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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The past season and a half has been challenging for DMP Durham Sharks in the elite women’s competition in England. With every other Premier 15s club associated with a men’s Premiership team with deeper pockets and better resources, the North East side has had to dig deep to avoid humiliating score lines on a weekly basis.


But who can blame them when every other Premier 15s club has the ability to pay players except them? With player retention an issue, the club have struggled with their squad depth of late and despite being a hot bed for English talent in former years, DMP have been stuck to the bottom of the table, without a win to their name all season.

Saying this, recent performance have drastically improved and a few months ago when the team called out internet trolls who criticised their performances and existence in the top league, the club received a barrage of support from opposition clubs, supporters and players alike.

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One player who has been essential for DMP is fly-half Cara Cookland. At only 21 years old the number ten exudes wisdom beyond her young years when asked how she copes with the constant string of heavy defeats.

“It’s really tough to experience all the losses but I focus more on myself rather than the things I can’t control,” said the third year Leeds Beckett student.

“I still feel I’ve improved as a player despite the results and find there is still a lot I can do to get better such as analysis before training or booking an extra slot with the coaches who are always available if we want to do extra sessions.

“We have had a tough season or two but we are getting better, we’re fighting for each other which is important to keep morale high and we try and be as positive as we can for each other on the pitch.


“When I come off the pitch after losing heavily, I’ll usually sit in the corner away from others and re-watch the game and see what I could have done better and focus on myself. We have this mindset of asking how can we improve the next week, we don’t want to fix everything all at once but it’s about what can we do 1% better next week, or thinking we scored one try this week, let’s aim for two next week.

“It’s amazing to be part of the Premier 15s competition and to go up against internationals players in my position like Zoe Harrison and people who play for England. Being in this league means I can test myself against the best players in the country which is a big positive for me personally as that’s where I want to be eventually.”

Cookland accepts that without the ability to compensate players and the growing professionalism of the game, there is a large gap between DMP and what other clubs can offer.


“We don’t have any full-time players at the club, none of us are paid to play, which is one of our main issues. We don’t have much squad depth and I imagine that’s why, as there’s never an incentive for a player to come and play for us.

“When you look at all the other Premier 15s teams, they have a men’s Premiership side to back them up and they’ll get revenue through that but we have a National 1 Men’s side a few leagues below which doesn’t generate the same revenue from match days or sponsors. It goes without saying, Darlington Mowden Park aren’t as well-known as a Harlequins or a Saracens.”

With the majority of players in the league either semi-professional or receiving a stipend to play, as well as the full time contracted Red Roses employed by the RFU, the league is heavily weighted in the favour of clubs who possess these players, meaning that home grown talent has gushed out of DMP in recent years.

“A lot of international players have come from the northeast or Yorkshire areas but have had to move on in order to play full time. At Darlington we all have full time jobs and can’t do as much training as other teams as we just don’t have the time.

“When we had a number of Scottish internationals playing for us two seasons ago, we finished further up the table, but those players are good enough to expect to be paid and they have to make those moves for themselves and their careers which is completely understandable.

“We want to make those steps to have full time players at the club but when we look at the budget, it’s hard to make it happen. Also, the RFU gives all the teams the same travel budget and I know they can’t give preferential treatment to certain teams, but we are the furthest North and we definitely have to travel further than other teams.”

Cookland admits that she has looked further afield and thought about changing clubs but despite the losses, the club does offer an opportunity for development and an encouraging environment in which to do so.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about moving but I’ve been at the club three years now and I’m developing and enjoying it and it’s not the right thing for me at the minute. It’s a really positive environment at DMP and we’re staying resilient to the challenge of this league.

“Like everyone in the Premiership, I want the league to go pro, that’s always been a dream of mine and I’ve always wanted to play for England so it’s about keeping strong and pushing myself to get there.”


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