ILLAWARRA have been rewarded for a Tarsha Gale Cup-winning season with seven players selected in the NSW under 18s squad.
The team, coached by Steelers mentor Daniel Lacey, will play the curtain-raiser to the Women's State of Origin clash at North Sydney Oval next Fridayin another first for women's footy.
Having secured what was a breakthrough crown for the Steelers, Lacey was proud to deliver call-ups to Maddi Weatherall, Teagan Berry, Mikayla Kidd, Tiana Graham Eleni Amone and Olivia Vale.
It will also be a special night for the Tungai family, with Rhiannon Tungai set to play the first leg of a double-header that will see big sister Shakiah make her Origin debut in the senior clash.
"We've said all along that we want to build our area up as one of the strongest and best regions in the state, and country, for producing female rugby league players.
"It's been no fluke, we worked really hard this year to get these girls to eventually win that premiership. That's been three years in the making.
"I'm just so proud of the work they've put in and now they've been rewarded with representative honours."
Having coached in the under 18s age group the past three seasons, Lacey also looking forward to working with the abundance of talent from elsewhere in the league.
"We've said all along that we want to build our area up as one of the strongest in the state for producing female rugby league players.Daniel Lacey
"The Tarsha Gale competition's been going for three years now and after that first year where it was all new we wanted to see where it all went," Lacey said.
"It's taken a couple of years to get this NSW team up and running but the competition's just got better as it's gone along.
"This year, with the amount of talent in the top five teams there, I knew it'd be exciting to draw from and make a really strong team and I'm really excited about what they can do."
Lacey also has plenty to be pleased about as St George Illawarra coach, with Helensburgh star Kezie Apps named skipper of the Blues senior side with NRLW teammates Tungai, Hannah Southwell and Holli Wheeler.