NSW City tryscoring whiz scoops all the awards

Margie McDonald

Scoring six tries in three games for NSW City was not part of Tiana Penitani’s plans when she ventured to the Gold Coast for her first representative Rugby League team for the 2019 Harvey Norman Women's National Championships.

“Absolutely not but it’s my job to be a finisher,” the Cronulla centre told nswrl.com.au.

“If the girls on the inside of me do their job well, that allows me to do my job well.

“I’m just putting the cherry on top of all the hard work the girls in the middle do.”

Penitani’s excellent finishing off earned her a hat-trick in Saturday's 22-18 win over South-East Queensland and another hat-trick in the 34-4 win over NSW Country in Sunday’s Grand Final against NSW Country.

That led to two other unexpected ‘cherries’ for Penitani – winning the Tahnee Norris Medal for the player of the Harvey Norman tournament, and winning the Players’ Player award voted by her NSW City teammates.

The 23-year-old played in the centres and the wing in her three games, with her acceleration alongside a neat little side-step proving too much for defenders.

“I was a 200-metre runner a very long time ago,” Penitani said.

“I have a track-and-field background and then played Rugby Sevens for a long time so that’s where my speed comes from I guess.”

But it was also rugby union which broke her heart, and almost her spirit, when she narrowly missed Olympic selection in 2016 – the Games the rugby women won the gold medal.

“It really crushed me,” Penitani said.

“It was one of the lowest points I’ve ever been at after the Rio Olympics.

“I was ruled out about a week before the girls left for Brazil due to injury – some bad niggles with my left knee – which was pretty heart-breaking.

“That led me about a year later to just step away from footy for a little while, just for myself.

“Now 18 months later I’m back playing footy and just loving it.”

So how did rugby league intervene in her sporting comeback?

“I’ve known Corbs (fellow Cronulla and NSW City teammate Croban McGregor) and a couple of the other girls for a really long time,” Penitani said.

“We played touch footy together back at school.

“So, I ran into them over the summer break and they said come along and have a run with them at the Sharkies.

“I thought, ‘Why not?’ because I was feeling it would be good to just get back into some club footy and get on the field again.

“I was starting to get itchy feet again, so I went for a run with the Sharks and haven't looked back.”

And now with her Harvey Norman Nationals debut, she is getting to see where rugby league might be able to take her.

“Anywhere it will take me, I’m all good with that,” the Canberra-born Penitani said.

“At the start of the season I wasn't looking at making rep teams. I just wanted to find the love in footy again and be part of a club again.

“But being here with the NSW City girls is a huge honour for me. I think every athlete wants to reach their full potential so I’ll be chasing that dream to see where my body and opportunities can take me.”

As for the National Championships, played over four days at Burleigh Heads’ Pizzey Park, Penitani knew it would be a good learning curve for her fledgling league career.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Penitani said.

“I knew women’s league was a really professional environment; I knew the stakes were really high; and I knew what it meant to all the girls.

“So, I expected a tough weekend and it was. But I come from a professional sport background so I know this environment and I know what it takes to switch on and get the tough jobs done.”