Edging their way to a hard-fought 26-20 qualifying final win over their Shire rivals, the Illawarra Steelers booked their passage through to the third week of the Tarsha Gale Cup Finals Series, downing the Sharks at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday.

Getting off to a slow start, the Steelers women trailed by 16 heading into the second half before reversing their fortunes – earning the praise of the competition’s namesake in the process.

As the Steelers celebrated their first-week win in the centre of Leichhardt Oval, they were joined by Tarsha Gale herself, who offered up her congratulations and praise for the young Illawarra stars.

“What these girls are doing for the game, and for Women’s Rugby League, it’s outstanding,” Gale told NSWRL.com.au

“The skill and talent that was on show, it’s truly inspirational. Not only that, they hit hard, they play hard. I could hear some of the hits back up in the grandstand.”

Playing with an at-times brutal intensity, so too were the Steelers fleet-of-foot – arguably none more so than flyer Lilly-Rose Bennett.

Crossing for a decisive hat-trick in the win over the Sharks, Bennett took her season tally to 14 tries, drawing level with the Bulldogs’ Page McGregor at the head of the competition.

“We knew we were going to come out and that it was going to be a hard game, but I think our girls handled it well, we worked really hard,” Bennett told NSWRL.com.au.

“A few of those tries, they were pretty hard. It’s my job to look for the gaps, and to hit them.

“If we go out as hard as we do always, and the effort into our preparation at training, there’s no reason why we can’t go all the way in this competition.” 

The Steelers now just sit one win away from the inaugural Tarsha Gale Cup Grand Final, so too do the Bulldogs, who beat the Eels 32-16 in their qualifying final at Belmore.

NSWRL’s Junior Representative competitions, the Harold Matthews, SG Ball and Tarsha Gale Cups, breed the next generation of top-quality Rugby League players – click here for the latest.