Newcastle Knights romp to debut victory in Tarsha Gale Cup opening round against St. George Illawarra Dragons

The Newcastle Knights made its debut in the Tarsha Gale Cup last night with a landslide victory and among the squad was four Port Stephens girls.

Ellie Russell, 17, from Seaham, Tia Cook, 17, from Raymond Terrace and Emily Harman, 16, from Nelson Bay donned the Knights’ red and blue for Thursday’s game against the St George Dragons.

Reserve Georgie Smith, 16, from Medowie watched as her team ran out 54-10 victors.

Harman, who played with Nelson Bay Junior Rugby League in Country Rugby League’s nines tournament last year, said the experience was exciting.

“It’s exciting to be part of the first Knights team and it’s a really good experience,” she said.

“I love touch footy but the contact, being tackled, is so good. When you’re on the ground and you just think ‘yeah, that was a good tackle’, that’s a big part of the experience. 

“To see how many girls are on the team from Port Stephens is really exciting too.”

Russell’s league career started with representing Hunter River High School. She played for the Raymond Terrace Ravens in the league tag competition then with the Roosters in CRL’s nines tournament.

“It’s an honour to be selected for the team,” Russell said. “It’s really amazing how much girls footy has grown. To be playing with and against these great girls is special.”

Cook played for Wests in the nines tournament last year, and Smith for Kurri.

The Knights squad is made up with 25 junior female league players.

The under-18s, nine-a-side competition was established last year in an historic move for women’s rugby league. A national competition, which features 10 clubs, it is named after former Jillaroo and NSW captain Tarsha Gale from the 1990s.

Fans from all over turned out Dudley Oval to catch the opening match of the Newcastle Knights’ campaign, and they certainly weren’t disappointed.

The game against the St George Dragons quickly descended into a 12 try thriller, with 10 going the way of the home side.

The match seemed close in the opening quarter, with Harman and Skye Pullman both crossing early.

Emily Harman "came up with two key plays" for the Knights in their debut match in the Tarsha Gale Cup.

Emily Harman "came up with two key plays" for the Knights in their debut match in the Tarsha Gale Cup.

The Dragons looked set for their second to keep level with the Knights off a well-placed last tackle kick, but quick feet from Harman kept the scoreline in the home team’s favour and switched the pace of the game.

Head coach Josh Potapczyk was certainly impressed with Harman’s efforts.

“She came up with two key plays for us early in the game with just those extra efforts,” he said.

“One [play] was to get us out of the in-goal on an attacking set … we scored off the back of that, and then later she held up one of the Dragons players over the line on the last tackle to make sure she didn’t score.”

It was Shenay Ball that shone offensively, as the South Lakes Roosters recruit bagged a hat-trick in her first game in the Novocastrian colours.

Her haul, added to by a double for Pullman, put the game beyond doubt but Potapczyk knows the pace and high-scoring nature of their opening clash isn’t set in stone.

“It was a fantastic all-round team performance, and all the girls put so much in … our goal was to limit their scoring and lift our work rate and we achieved that today,” he said.

“We’re up to the next challenge now. We had a bit of an unknown in terms of what we could achieve, particularly in attack, so it was good to see we could have the confidence, run the lines and pull the other team apart.

“There’s no doubt we won’t score that many all season long, but if we can get close to that against other established teams then I think we’ll do well.”

The Tarsha Gale Cup head coach also praised the strong crowd that Dudley and Newcastle offered up for the girls’ first run out.

“We’re stoked, it’s great to see Newcastle is more than happy to embrace any Knights side that runs out,” Potapczyk said. “Particularly with the girls making sure they had the passion, attitude and teamwork that we expect all Newcastle teams to play with.”

Bree O’Neill, Olivia Kernick, Olivia Glanville and captain Sophie Buller all added to the 10 try haul for the Knights. Buller kicked five goals, while Pullman and Cook added one each.

The Knights will now set off on the road, playing at Leichhardt Oval against Wests Tigers next weekend.

The girls in red and blue will then return home in the third round to face the Canterbury Bulldogs at the Maitland Sports Ground on February 24.

Post-Match Interview with Josh Potapczyk