AFTER a dominant introduction to rugby league, Teagan Berry always appeared to be a women's NRL star of the future.
From helping Illawarra win its maiden Tarsha Gale title, to making her NSW under 18s debut and steering the Stingrays of Shellharbour to their first Illawarra Division Rugby League under 18s premiership, Berry had a 2019 season to for the ages.
"The past two years have been an absolute whirlwind, as I can remember starting to play league tag at Stingrays because our coach asked to put together a team," Berry said.
"Not long after that, I had a crack at league and loved it.
"As I hate losing, last season was an absolute dream, with me winning three titles.
"And although COVID ended our undefeated Tarsha Gale season earlier (which will be an under 19s competition in 2021), we get a chance to defend our under 18 Illawarra title this Saturday against Dapto.
On the back of that success, the 18-year-old's star continues to rise, as she was announced on Thursday as part of the St George Illawarra Dragons NRLW squad for 2020.
"I was originally brought in a development player for the NRL Nines and loved it," Berry, who admitted it was tough to train by herself during the COVID lockdown, said.
"When the club invited me to start training with them a couple of weeks ago, I jumped at the chance.
"It was during this time they told me I was going to be in the 2020 squad but I had to keep it under wraps - thankfully it's all out in the open now.
"I'm over the moon, as this is the next step on my rugby league journey."
One constant on that journey has been coach Daniel Lacey, who coached her at Illawarra and NSW under 18s level before bringing the Oak Flats High School student into his Red V squad for 2020.
"Lace [Daniel Lacey] has easily been the biggest influence on my career because he's always believed in me," the electric winger said.
"Because he uses similar systems at the Dragons that I've been in before, it's made my transition into the squad a lot easier.
"He's always there to give me advice when I need it, as are the more experienced Dragons players such as Kezie Apps, Sam Bremner, Sam Sergis and Isabelle Kelly - they are all idols of mine I hope to one day emulate.
"Being around them has been a great experience, as they have all been so positive and willing to assist me.
"I know this is a big learning year for me, as I prepare to hopefully debut in the coming seasons.
"Until then, I want to keep working hard on my upper body strength and defensive positioning."
Lacey is excited to have Berry, as well as fellow Tarsha Gale product Jaime Chapman, in his NRLW squad, saying their inclusion is a reward for their continued growth.
"The main reason I'm still involved in the Tarsha Gale system is to keep an eye on the progression of younger girls and get a gauge if they can handle to step up," Lacey said.
"Teagan always had the speed but it wasn't until the end of her first season in 2018 that she started to take her footy as serious as she needed to.
"Shifting from wing to fullback allowed her to improve her ball playing and on-field positioning.
"She's one of those girls that didn't really have the chance to play footy from about 12 to 16, missing out on a crucial chance to hone her skills.
"However, she's more than making up for it now, being on the quickest learners I've seen at her age.
"Teagan's development is a real testament to the Lisa Fiola and Tarsha Gale system and highlights how important it is in the future of women's rugby league."
While there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding the women's competition, which kicks off on Saturday, October 3, one thing Lacey was sure on was Berry's inclusion in the 2020 team.
"Whichever way the season went, we wanted to make sure Teagan was involved in some capacity - be it as a development or full-contracted player," he said.
"With the strong outside backs we have in our squad, I thought it was important to give her a chance to build a connection with them and bounce ideas off them - while watching their approach to the game and worth ethic first hand.
"I've said to Teagan 'yes you're talented and it's not a fluke you're here but you've got to build each and every year'.
"So far at training, she has proven she's not out of her depth and her maturity has really impressed me.
"She has no sense of entitlement and is prepared to do the work, over a long period of time, to get where she wants to - I'm sure she's going to get a lot of of the next couple of weeks.
"The scoreboard, at the end of the day, only shows one winner of the field but if we continue as a team to tick boxes, on and off the field, then we will be in a better spot than when we started."
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