“F***, I’m alive.”
With those three words, Teagan Berry felt saved as she laid upside down in her car after it had rolled five times off a highway and into a ditch in November last year.
Berry, one of the NRLW’s leading try-scorers and Dragons young gun, was on her way to Coffs Harbour for an Australian Oztag tournament when she had to swerve off the road to avoid a head-on collision.
In doing so the 21-year-old known as ‘Flash’, quite literally saw her life flash before her eyes as she sat in the driver’s seat and tumbled off the road before her new car - only three months old - landed on its roof.
“I don’t know how I survived,” Berry told NRL.com.
“I just kept tumbling. I had a drink in the holder so that went everywhere, and everything else just went flying.
"I was waiting for the end and thought I was going to die. I just felt my body after it and looked across to see outside the car and thought 'f***, I'm alive'.
“People who came over and tried to help me couldn’t believe I was able to walk away.
“There were some dumb decisions with me trying to rush to get to Coffs and overtake a caravan. I don’t ever want to be in that position again.”
Berry remarkably not only walked away with just a small cut on her leg and a sore neck, but went on to take part in the Oztag tournament the following day.
While Berry believes the use of a seatbelt was the main reason for her escape, the thought of her late uncle, Brent McPhee, may have played a part.
“My uncle passed away a few weeks earlier and it was his birthday that day so I do actually think he saved me,” Berry said.
“I was listening to Wasting Angels (by Post Malone) when it happened too, so it all kind of just hits me when I think about it.
“I crawled out of the car. There was a local nurse that stopped and I immediately hugged her. I was obviously really shaken, so rattled, my blood pressure was over 200.
“There was no phone service so they took me to the nearest town where I could get an ambulance and after being cleared of anything major I played OzTag the next day.
“My neck was sore, and the cut on my leg, but I was alright. I learned a really big lesson. It was a huge wake-up call for me. I’m so careful when I drive now."
Berry hasn’t told too many people of her off-season ordeal, and didn’t feel the need to tell the Dragons given she was not contracted to the club at the time.
The former Oak Flats High School student was one of only five Dragons who remained at the Red V after last season and while conceding there was interest from the Sharks, she wasn't too keen on following the others out the door.
Dragons coach Jamie Soward has copped some criticism after the likes of Jillaroos stars Emma Tonegato, Kezie Apps and Keeley Davis all left the club but Berry leapt to his defence.
"Everyone dislikes him but I don't understand it, I think he’s so passionate about the women’s game and his players," Berry said.
He wants to bring all his knowledge to help us be better players. You see him in video and he’s animated yelling ‘we can do this’.- Teagan Berry Dragons fullback on coach Jamie Soward.
"It makes me want to run through a brick wall and think we can beat anyone.
"Part of me only signing for one year here is based on whether 'Sowie' comes back as he’s only contracted until the end of the year too.
"I want to play under him as much as I can. If he signs I will probably extend, and obviously the squad as well, I don’t want to see everyone leave again.
"I just love the Dragons. It’s my local club and I’ve come through the pathways here."
Berry admits the exit of several stars had originally worried her but has now also enabled her to provide more leadership to a new-look and inexperienced squad.
"Kezie was the only hope at the end there and when she said she signed with the Tigers I was like 'well, sh*t, we’ve got no one now'," Berry said.
"But I absolutely love the group we’ve got now, every one of them.
"Everyone here wants to work hard and are really willing to learn. I feel I can gel well with these girls because I can just be myself and not have anyone to worry about feeling too intimidated.
"I know Kezie and all of the girls that left are going to want to smash us, and I’ll want to smash them too. We’re all mates so it’s good vibes."
Berry's speed on display in Newcastle
Berry is determined to rewrite any narrative that suggests she is nothing more than a flashy finisher, standing on the wing to a player that can make an impact in the No.1 jersey every game like Knights star fullback Tamika Upton.
Upton and Berry clashed in Round 1, but also had a sneaky run-in when the pair met in last year's semi-final at Suncorp Stadium.
Berry's Dragons went down, and it left her in tears, but it was Upton's performance and competitiveness that has encouraged her to aim for the top.
"I couldn’t stop crying after that game and I still don't know why," she said.
"We just had a really good team and high expectations. I was really passionate and Tamika was trying to fight me. It was all building up but it makes me laugh now.
"She’s the player I want to be. She’s the best in the game, she’s always around the footy. I look up to her.
"She’s always chirpy which is good too, but after the game we shake hands and move on. There’s no bad blood it’s just like good job. It's good for the game."
Soward was adamant Berry and Dragons halves Raecene McGregor and Tyla Nathan-Wong would be better for the run as a combination ahead of their clash with the Eels on Saturday.
The trio all performed individually well but will look to link better around the ball as the 2023 season goes on.
"The biggest change for me at fullback is leadership... when you’re on the wing you can almost chill out there and not have a worry in the world," Berry said.
"But playing in the middle with Raecene and Tyla there’s more leadership and communication required.
"There’s so much more on me and if I stuff it up I get roasted in video, but I just love the thought of that too.
"I’m still working on my skills. It comes naturally for me but I just need to do it more consistently and be better with my decision making."
Another motivation for Berry is representative footy with the NSW Country representative falling short of an Origin debut in Game One this year despite a last-minute hamstring injury to Tiana Penitani.
Berry special for Dragons in Round 1
Berry was in the extended squad but Sky Blues coach Kylie Hilder overlooked her for former Dragons teammate Quincy Dodd less than 24 hours before the clash.
"After that when Kylie said I wouldn’t be playing it really lit a fuse in me," Berry said.
"I thought I was a bit unlucky but said to myself that I’m going to go back to the Dragons and kill it. I didn’t get a reason why it wasn't my time, but just to keep playing consistently.
"I have that fire in my belly and rep footy will hopefully come in the future. I just want to keep the No.1 jersey here now at the Dragons and play well."
Match: Dragons v Eels
Round 2 -
Venue: WIN Stadium, Wollongong