St George Illawarra winger Teagan Berry had her sights set on competing at the 2024 Paris Olympics until discovering the pathway established at the Dragons to the NRLW.
Berry, who has scored four tries in the Red V’s march to Sunday’s grand final against Sydney Roosters, was the 100m silver medallist at the 2019 Australian All Schools Championships in Perth and has since been showing her speed on the rugby league field.
The Shellharbour teenager began playing in the Illawarra Rugby League’s November Nines tournament and was selected for the Steelers’ Tarsha Gale Cup team before being catapulted into the NSW under 18s team.
A 95-metre intercept try in the 2019 State of Origin was clocked at under 12 seconds and made Berry a YouTube star, helping to convince her that the NRLW may be a career option.
Berry goes 100m for the opener
“I think there were like 13 million views,” she said. “I was shocked about that and that is when I thought this could lead to something.
“That was my first year with the Steelers. Before that I played in a local comp in Shellharbour and it was just for fun. I just played a bit of footy there and I got picked up in a trial.
“When I first started with the Steelers, I got a NSW call-up. I didn’t really think that I would make it to the under 18s team. It just gave me more belief that I had a future in rugby league, so I took that over running.
“I got second in the Australian Championships and I had ambitions to go to the Olympics so it was a bit disappointing when I told my coach I was actually playing rugby league because she thought I would achieve more in running, but I love footy.”
At just 19-years-of-age, Berry is an example of the local talent rising through the St George Illawarra ranks, with Chantel Tugaga and Keele Brown also being members of the Steelers team that won the 2019 Tarsha Gale Cup.
Captain Kezie Apps, vice-captain Keeley Davis, Dally M medallist Emma Tonegato and star halfback Rachael Pearson are other members of the grand final team who began playing in the Illawarra competition.
“There has been amazing growth in the game,” Berry said. “Tarsha Gale Cup gives the opportunity for young girls to come through like I did. I don’t think if I hadn’t played Tarsha Gale Cup or junior reps I would be here now. It is a great pathway for young girls coming through to aspire to.”
Davis is just 21 but has played every Dragons match since the inception of the NRLW in 2018 after being a member of the club’s inaugural Tarsha Gale Cup team in 2017.
She has been a regular member of the NSW and Australian teams since 2018 and is considered a future captain of the Dragons and Jillaroos.
The star hooker, who has been switching to lock for the Dragons when Quincy Dodd comes off the interchange bench, said an Illawarra team in the NSWRL Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership would complete the club’s pathway system and produce more local talent.
“There is obviously a great pathway at the moment but that is the missing link,” Davis said. “I think once we get an Illawarra team in the Harvey Norman comp there will be a smoother transition from Tarsha Gale Cup to NRLW.
“There are so many great girls coming through that Tarsha Gale pathway who are really stepping up this year and I am keen for that to happen. Hopefully there will be a team next year, but we will see.”
In the four seasons since the NRLW began, Davis said the growth in playing numbers and interest from fans had increased significantly and would only continue to grow.
“I feel like especially this year the growth of the audience has gotten really big,” she said. “With the young girls coming through I feel that this year the quality of the games have been really high.
“Considering we haven’t played at the elite level for 18 months, it has been a really great product we are putting out and it is only going to get better.”