THE Stingrays of Shellharbour have successfully defended their Illawarra Division Rugby League under 18s girls tackle title, by defeating the Dapto Canaries 42-12 on Saturday.
The Stingrays, in the grand final at Ziems Park, ran in eight tries to two, to take out the 2020 premiership.
In the 30-point win, which saw Rhiannon Tungai named player of the match, newly announced Dragons NRLW player Teagan Berry scored five tries, with Riley Scott, Bridie Inwood and Teagan Williams also grabbing four-pointers, while Shante Lenartowicz landing five conversions.
Rose Lina Tau and Ula-Mari Time-Cribb scored for the Canaries, which were both converted by Mollie Bonham.
"The key to Saturday's win for us was starting strongly," Stingrays coach John Simon said.
"Although we beat them [Dapto] in our first game this season, they got the better of us the next two games, purely because of our slow starts and we found ourselves down 18-nil and 20-nil respectively.
"In the last instance, with 10 players, we fought back to lead 30-26 before losing 32-30 - highlighting how I thought we'd dominated each match except for the start.
"That gave us confidence heading into the final against our main rivals.
"After jumping out to a 16-nil lead on Saturday, it gave the girls plenty of confidence to go on with the job which they did."
Victory secured the Flinders Field-based club their second straight title, after defeating Corrimal in 2019 - with the majority of the squad being involved in both.
"To go back-to-back is really exciting for the girls," Simon, who played 230 NRL games during his career, said.
"Because of last season's success, there was an element of expectation and more pressure on the girls, which were both handled admirably by the team.
"This success has been really important for the club and helped put it on the map in terms of women's rugby league, as you always attract more players if you're doing well.
"We've got a solid pathway now, with teams in the under 14s and under 16s.
"The under 16s girls have had their own success too, splitting into two teams for the Novembers Nines and both reaching the final.
"As well as that, our league tag program has always been strong, with plenty of sides competing.
"League tag gives girls an introduction in rugby league and allows them to develop basic ball skills, before we zero in on the defensive side of things when they come across into the tackle form of the game, in a safe and fun environment.
"We're building a strong, positive culture here and these two under 18s victories are going to be a catalyst for us moving forward, as there are so many girls that want to be involved in rugby league."
The next goal for Simon and his partner in crime, Clay Girdler, is making the transition into the Illawarra women's open competition.
"Clubs like Helensburgh and Corrimal are the benchmark in the women's competition and where we'd like to get to us a club in the future," Simon, who is excited to see Teagen Berry get her shot in the Dragons' NRLW squad, said.
"While looking at what has and hasn't worked for certain clubs, we also want to develop our own long-term model and build on the attributes the club possesses.
"Our past two under 18s sides are going to be our foundation, which will hopefully allow us to attract some older and more experienced players to mix in with our talented group of youngsters.
"I can speak from experience, coming into grade at a young age is hard, so we don't want to dent any of the girls' confidence by making that transition.
"We've been lucky enough to have a handful of girls play at the highest level in their own age groups, in competitions such as Tarsha Gale, but playing in the open's age group is going to be a real test, but one I'm confident our girls will excel at.
"There will be bumps along the way but it's how you respond to them, especially in terms of game management, that will determine how far the girls can go with this.
"I'm really excited about the direction the club is heading."
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