The foundations of women’s rugby league are stronger than ever.
The Tarsha Gale Cup Under 18s girl’s junior representative competition that showcases up and coming female rugby league talent, has gone from strength to strength in its two years of existence.
For the competitions namesake, Tarsha Gale, the competition is the bedrock for unlimited potential in women’s rugby League.
A pioneer in women’s rugby league, Tarsha reached the pinnacle of the sport, captaining both Australia and NSW throughout the 90s.
Since hanging up her boots, Tarsha has been a champion for women’s rugby league, encouraging participation, campaigning for funding, and nurturing the young talent that is evident in the Tarsha Gale Cup.
Speaking with Tarsha, her excitement for the sport and its future is evident.
It is something she has been passionate about since tackling her brothers in fiery games of backyard footy when she was young.
“I am very lucky to have been born into a sporting family,” Tarsha said.
“My parents were both world rated athletes, with Dad being a sprinter and a bronze medalist in the Commonwealth Games.
“Mum was a pentathlete, a sprinter and a jumper.”
Tarsha credits her older brothers Brett and Scott for sparking her early love of rugby league, as she proudly followed their first grade careers throughout the 80s, including stints at the Roosters in 1984.
“I had their games taped and I would watch them over and over, fast forwarding to the parts where they scored tries,” she reminisced.
“Mum is a mad Roosters supporter so she was proud to see them run out on the field, we were all proud.”
Watching her brothers at the top level lit a fire within Tarsha that she couldn’t ignore.
“At home growing up, you couldn’t go to the toilet without being tackled.
“It was inevitable that I would start playing.”
Tarsha’s first step into rugby league was in her mid-twenties when she moved away from netball in favor of playing touch football.
The skills she possessed caught the eye of onlookers.
“Somebody saw me playing touch and told me about a women’s rugby league competition, so I went along and I just loved it, that’s how it all started.”
“I joined a team in Illawarra and would travel from Sydney to play.
“Whilst I loved playing touch footy, it was a bit stop/start.
“With league, I would make a run and if they couldn’t stop me I could keep going, and the tackling techniques came naturally because I’ve been doing it since I was little.”
Tarsha’s rugby league career began to flourish, as she started to steer her team to continuous wins.
It wasn’t until a journalist wrote a story about the rise of the women’s competition that her parents found out that she played the game.
“I thought it was going to be a little piece in the Illawarra local paper, but it ended up as a big spread in the Telegraph,” she laughed.
“I got a phone call from my Dad telling me that they had seen the article.
“Mum was shocked because she thought I was still playing netball and tennis.
“She got over it though, Mum loves her rugby league so she started teaching me how to feed the scrum correctly and that type of stuff, she was very supportive.”
Women’s rugby league started to gain momentum with Tarsha at the helm.
In 1995 she was selected for the inaugural Australian side and began touring every year, traveling to New Zealand, Fiji, and England.
The early years were not easy though, with the team adopting a ‘do-it-yourself’ attitude to help support their endeavors.
“It cost about $3,000 per player to tour New Zealand, which we had to raise ourselves.
“It was very grass-roots, we used to go to pubs to fundraise.
“One of my favourite fundraising techniques was when a bloke would buy $10 worth of raffle tickets, I would ask if he would buy $20 worth if I could tackle him.
“They’d start laughing and would run up gently, but I would flick their legs and put them on their bum,” Tarsha laughed.
“You’d sell a lot of tickets, but they would never do it twice.”
Tarsha says a lot has changed since the days of tackling blokes in the pub for touring money.
“It’s such an elite program now, it’s so well set up and supported.
“The Jillaroos have that backing now, they have the professionalism and support from Harvey Norman.
“The fitness and skill level is incredible; it is astounding how far the top level women’s game has come.
“It needs to continue in this vein and put it out there on the world stage, because it is a marketable product and you can see the dedication from the girls.
“They don’t take the support they are getting now for granted, they’re going to take it all the way.”
Tarsha understands the importance of building a strong foundation, and believes that nurturing and supporting young players in the Tarsha Gale Cup is crucial.
“Previously we used to lose these young girls because there was nowhere for them to go after year 12,” she explained.
“Slowly but surely, the pathway is being cemented by initiatives such as the Tarsha Gale Cup.”
Tarsha said she couldn’t be prouder to lend her name to the competition.
“To say I was shocked is a cliché, but truly I’m thinking “Me? Really?”
“I’m honored because my brothers went through the Jersey Flegg and S.G. Ball competitions, and I think about my name against those names, and I’m just pinching myself.
“I’m so flattered.”
Tarsha has a keen eye for upcoming talent scouting the competition for talented young women.
“The girls in the Tarsha Gale Cup have improved in leaps in bounds.
“The competition started just last year and already you can see the vast improvement is incredible.
“The way they’re passing the ball, the way they’re tackling, they’re not just grabbing.
“You can tell the coaching staff have really spent time teaching these girls the right techniques.”
“They train really hard, they want people to come out to their games, they want to make that break through.”
Tarsha would encourage fans to get out to Allianz Stadium early on Sunday to watch the Sydney Roosters Indigenous Academy take on the Cronulla Sharks.
“The game will be fast paced and highly skilled. With a support squad around them, they are well disciplined and have all the skills.
“They prove that the greatest game of all can be played by all.
“We have to keep going at this pace, because women’s sport is taking off everywhere and I want to see rugby league lead the way.”
The Sydney Roosters are proud to be hosting Tarsha this Sunday at Allianz Stadium when The Sydney Roosters Indigenous Academy Under 18s girls side that will face the Cronulla Sharks.
The match will be a curtain-raiser to a blockbuster Round 3 NRL clash between the Sydney Roosters and Newcastle Knights.
In line with our Junior rep pricing at Henson Park, we will be providing entry for only $5 on match day (tickets available from the Allianz Stadium Forecourt Box Office) from box office opening at 3:45pm (gates open at 4.15pm) up until 4.30pm kick-off.