By Jocelyn Airth

Cronulla Sharks’ Indigenous player, Akira Kelly, has been named Player of the Year following the first ever Tarsha Gale Cup season.

A key player in the Sharks’ fierce Under 18’s women’s side, Kelly scored 11 tries and booted an impressive 10 conversions, with the zippy five-eighth tallying a whopping 64 points for Cronulla this year, making her one of the competition’s top point-scorers.

Kelly said she was equally excited and surprised when she found out that she had won the historic award.

“I’d just come home from school when I found out. I’d expected the award to go to one of the girls playing in the Grand Final, from the Panthers or Bulldogs,” Kelly admitted.

“I felt and still feel so honoured that they thought of me.”

Kelly was presented with the award by Ms. Tarsha Gale, captain of the Australian Jillaroos throughout the 1990s and the very woman after which the Women’s Under 18’s competition was named.

“I got to shake her [Ms. Tarsha Gale’s] hand. It was such a privilege to get out there to see and meet her,” she said.

Hailing from a Rugby League family, Kelly kicked off her love for Rugby League at a young age. She said that she was thankful for the opportunity to take her passion for the game to new heights with the Sharks’ Tarsha Gale Cup side.

“It was a great experience to play at that level. The intensity is higher than club footy – you really have to live your game, chat and defence.

“I was luck to play with a great bunch of girls. We really looked out for each other on and off the field… we’re like sisters now,” Kelly said.  

“I’m so proud that our team made it so far and that we fought back when we were down in the Preliminary Finals.”

The 16-year-old is looking forward to donning the Black, White and Blue with next year’s Tarsha Gale Cup side and hopes to see more young girls at trials.

“I’d definitely encourage more girls to play Rugby League. It’s a good sport and a great way to make friends.”

In a successful first season the Sharks progressed to the third week of the Tarsha Gale Cup finals, only to bow out to the Bulldogs in a closely fought Grand Final qualifier.