In years to come, when Rugby League fans reflect on the rapid rise of the women’s game, one young woman from Cronulla will forever hold a very special piece of history: this morning, Tayla Preston scored the first-ever try in the inaugural Tarsha Gale Cup.
Preston, who captains the Cronulla Sharks in the under-18s women’s junior representative competition, took exactly 29 seconds to achieve the feat, scoring in the opening set of the Sharks’ clash with Sydney Indigenous Academy. Taking the ball at first receiver on the halfway line, the five-eighth scooted around the opposing defence to run 50 metres untouched. While the significance of the achievement might not have sunk in yet, it helped calm some early nerves as the team ran out convincing 38-0 winners.
“It was great fun; everyone was a bit nervous to start off with but once we got out there we knew what we had to do,” Preston tells NSWRL.com.au. “It gives me a lot of confidence for the season ahead – yeah, it was great to get a try in.”
Like so many Tarsha Gale Cup players, Preston is still relatively new to the game, having picked up a Steeden for the first time in 2016 with the Cronulla-Caringbah Sharks under-18s side. Alongside the Cronulla-Caringbah opens women’s team, which took out a thrilling SMWRL Grand Final, the under-18s tasted the ultimate success.
“It was the first-ever woman’s under-18s team in the Shire and it was a great thing to be a part of,” Preston says. “We ended up taking out the premiership for that one, then when the Tarsha Gale arose we were all really keen to give it a go.”
Sporting blonde braids and the Sharks’ number six jersey, Preston bore striking resemblance to NSW and Jillaroos star Allana Ferguson throughout her impressive individual performance – a similarity which, perhaps, is no coincidence.
“It’s really good, because Allana teaches at my school,” Preston explains. “She’ll come help me with some tips or whatever if I need and it’s just really good to look up to her.”
In recent times, Cronulla have led the way in growing the women’s game; since an historic women’s clash with the St George Illawarra Dragons last year, the club have signed representative stars Ferguson, Ruan Sims, Maddie Studdon and Corbin McGregor. With the presence of such talent around the club, it comes as little surprise that the Sharks are one of the early favourites for the Tarsha Gale Cup.
“It’s great inspiration for all of us, because we look at how they’ve got to where they are,” Preston says. “We look up to them and we just strive to be the best, like them.
“I’m just looking forward for women’s Rugby League to improve and expand in the future.”
Said expansion of the women’s game is now inevitable – and it appears that the first Tarsha Gale Cup try scorer could be a big part of that.