This article was first written for and published for The Roar.
The Cronulla Sharks are the 2018 Tarsha Gale Cup premiers, after defeating the Newcastle Knights 36-22 in the grand final at Leichhardt Oval last Saturday.
The standout performance of the match belonged to Faith Nathan, who scored the first try, then followed it up with two more, adding to the five tries she scored in the Sharks’ preliminary win over the St George Dragons.
Cronulla five-eighth Madison Higgins-Ashby was dangerous down the right edge and was named both player of the grand final and player of the series.
It was a disappointing outcome for the girls from Newcastle, but it was an impressive effort to make the grand final in their inaugural year. Some of these girls had not played rugby league before the Country Rugby League November 9s program late last year, having come to the game with backgrounds in touch football, Oz Tag or soccer.
The goal now must be to make sure we keep them playing rugby league.
The Penrith Panthers may have been the champions and stand-out team last year, but this year that accolade certainly belonged to the Sharks, who won all eight of their regular-season games to be crowned minor premiers, boasting the league’s best attack and defence.
Congratulations to the Sharks, not just on their win, but also on their outstanding and continued commitment to women’s rugby league.
I know there was plenty of disappointment following the NRL’s announcement earlier this year that Cronulla would not have a women’s team in the inaugural NRL Women’s Premiership, but my message to the Shire is to keep providing pathways so women and girls have the opportunity to play the sport that they love.
That same message applies to all the teams that fielded teams this year. This competition is one of the early steps in what is now a complete rugby league pathway in New South Wales.
I also want to mention the Wests Tigers, who were one of my favourite stories of the year.
Flashback one year ago and the Tigers had concluded their first season without a win. This year, they went just one win short of a grand final appearance, which bodes very well for the future of women’s rugby league not just at the Wests Tigers, but also in Western Sydney.
The Tigers’ commitment to this team also flies in the face of those who dared to suggest that Western Sydney had no interest in women’s footy just because no NRL teams based in this region put in a bid for a team in the women’s NRL competition.
Interest in rugby league by women and girls continues to grow and should the NRL expand its competition next year, I would be very surprised not to see one of the teams based in Western Sydney putting in a bid.
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In another big step in ensuring coverage and access, the grand final was live streamed, and those who watched it were treated to Tarsha Gale herself in commentary.
For those who missed the game, it is still available via the New South Wales Rugby League website and Facebook page.
While the Tarsha Gale Cup is won, some girls’ footy season isn’t over. Many will feed into the NSW Women’s Premiership and be given the opportunity to hone their skills and learn from some of the women who will be representing NSW in State of Origin come June.
In a couple of weeks, the women’s City vs Country match will be held, which will assist selectors in picking Queensland and NSW teams to compete in the first-ever branded women’s Origin match, which will take place on Friday June 22, at North Sydney Oval. Tickets are already on sale, with adult getting in for just $10, while kids are free.
Following that, the Women’s Premiership will continue and conclude in late August, and then, come September – to align with the men’s finals series – the first NRL Women’s Premiership will begin, with the Sydney Roosters, St George Illawarra Dragons, New Zealand Warriors and Brisbane Broncos taking part.
I’ll be sure to keep you all posted on this throughout the coming months – there will be plenty of opportunity for all of you to support women playing rugby league.