Super sporting couple put to COVID-19 test
COURTNEY Hill admits it "wasn't the honeymoon" she and partner Lauren Winfield were expecting.
There had been their picturesque March 13 wedding on the beach at Point Cartwright, on the Sunshine Coast, followed by a few days on beautiful Hamilton Island, but then came the three-month COVID-19 lockdown with Hill's family before they could finally return to England.
"It's been a testing period, put it that way," Hill, the Queensland-born cricketer-turned-rugby league player, said with a laugh.
The superstar sporting couple wed a week after Winfield's England was controversially bundled out of the women's T20 cricket World Cup.
The month prior, Hill had enjoyed a stint playing with the Sydney Roosters in rugby league's Nines tournament in Perth.
Both had anticipated returning to the UK by late March - Hill back to her job as a professional cricket coach and to resume playing duties with Leeds Rhinos in the women's rugby league competition, and Winfield to rejoin the England squad in preparation for the home series against India and South Africa.
Heavy restrictions following the coronavirus outbreak put paid to that.
"We made the decision not to return to England when things were going pear-shaped, simply due to the fact we were going home for nothing," Hill said.
"We knew there would be no training, no competitive sport, no work."
Hill, 33, and Winfield, 29, instead shared their time between the Sunshine Coast and the Hill family property at Monto, west of Bundaberg.
"That's been the beauty of staying here in Australia," Hill said.
"Being able to get out of the house, go running, go down to the track, get to the cricket nets … it's so much more unrestricted here.
"Some days we were doing our runs along the beach, other days in the country.
"There's worse places to be stuck than out here in Queensland."
The cloud of COVID-19 has however been a constant over their heads and everyone else's.
"We've managed to still train," Winfield said, "but we've not got goalposts like we did. You had a real focus on what you were training for … but there is just that unknown, that uncertainty."
Hill captained the Rhinos to the Women's Super League title last year and in the process was named the "Woman of Steel", as the competition's premier player - all just two years since her switch of sports.
The 2020 campaign was due to kick off on March 29 and run all the way through to the start of October. It may yet be a condensed into mini tournament starting in late August.
"The RFL (Rugby Football League) are doing everything they can to get sort of a season on for us - at the moment we're waiting to hear," Hill said.
"If there isn't football this year it will be frustrating, but I'm OK with it because there is a much bigger picture going on here at the minute.
"You need to do right by general society."
Hill will be able to resume work as a cricket coach, initially one-on-one tuition before getting back to schools, clubs and representative teams, where she makes her income.
"It's not like my job has dissolved into thin air," she said. "It's a matter of waiting, but you lose that little bit of purpose I suppose."
Hill, a teacher by trade who has taught in Yeppoon and Caloundra, has been a revelation in the amateur women's league competition. Before her switch in sports, she hadn't played league since age 12 in Rockhampton.
Winfield had joked previously "she's one of those annoying people who's good at everything".
Hill's exploits with the Rhinos led to an invite from the Roosters to contest the Nines.
"It seems like forever ago now," she said.
"I really enjoyed my time at the Roosters. It was short and sharp that's for sure. I had a few delays getting here. I got off the plane (after a 24-hour journey) and went straight to training.
"I was only with them for the week but it was a really enjoyable week."
It was cricket, though, that brought Hill and Winfield together, with the pair meeting while playing for the Brisbane Heat in the 2016 Women's Big Bash League.
Hill had been more comfortable about "coming out" and Winfield said that "Australian thing" of being more laid-back had rubbed off on her over time.
Hill moved to England in 2018 before Winfield popped the question on New Year's Day 2019.
Winfield confessed she had "three sleepless nights" before approaching Hill's parents with her plan to propose.
She had told The Independent that Hill's parents, in their typically relaxed Aussie way, "were like … 'go for it'".
A wicketkeeper/batswoman, Winfield made her debut for England in a one-day international in July 2013. The country was on track to make a huge impact at this year's T20 World Cup before their semi-final against India in Sydney was washed out, with no chance of postponing it.
"It would've been a nice way to start the year," Winfield said. "To go through that heartache … to have an opportunity ripped away from you in such frustrating circumstances.
"The fact that they didn't have a reserve day for a global competition baffles me really. But we (England) have got the one-day World Cup that we hold and we want to defend."
Rain had also threatened to put a damper on Hill and Winfield's nuptials in the sand. It "bucketed down" before and after.
"The clouds decided to part for an hour to let us have the ceremony on the beach," Hill said.
Many of Winfield's English teammates had stayed on to join in the festivities. She was also happy to show off to family her home away from home. It might even become home full-time one day.
"Maybe post-cricket," Winfield said. "I'm going to keep going as long as I can, while I'm still enjoying it, while I'm still fit.
"While I'm out here, you're obviously missing your family and friends, but in terms of the country and the lifestyle … the things I enjoy, being outdoors and active, it ticks all those boxes.
"I could totally see myself settling over here at some stage."
Courtney Hill opens the scoring for the Rhinos— Leeds Rhinos (@leedsrhinos) September 29, 2019
Leeds Rhinos Women 4 - 0 Wigan Warriors Women pic.twitter.com/bp3hbbaSeZ
Hill, who aims to play at next year's rugby league World Cup in England, admits she still gets itchy feet when it comes to cricket.
"Sometimes," she said. "At the end of every session, whether it's with Loz (Winfield) or the girls back home, I always ask for a bucket of balls to be sent down while I have a bat. I jumped in against the Sunny Coast Masters boys the other afternoon.
"I hope I can even play a bit of club cricket back in England sometime soon.
"Coaching fills that hole for the minute, but I'm never retired. I'll never say never."
The two returned to England last week, with the England cricket girls able to resume training this week.
A tri-series with India and South Africa may be pencilled in for later in the year.
Hill and Winfield were regulars at the Maroochydore Cricket Club nets during their Sunshine Coast stay - to keep Winfield's eye in.
"She's actually started listening to me a bit more during this corona period," fast bowler Hill said.
"I don't know if it's because she's genuinely open to it, or it's because she has nobody else to coach her… maybe desperate times, desperate measures.
"But I try to keep my mouth closed - she's a big girl. She's an international athlete for a reason.
"She doesn't need feedback every single ball. She can work it out for herself. I'm just the ball thrower really."