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'It's a really special group': Crawford reviews Steelers' perfect season

A 24-12 Grand Final victory saw Courtney Crawford's Steelers cap off an undefeated Tarsha Gale Cup season and etch their names into the history books alongside the other great sides of the Illawarra.

Having conceded just three tries in their previous five outings, the Steelers were dealt somewhat of a shock when the Knights poured on a trio of tries in the opening half-hour of their Grand Final encounter at CommBank Stadium.

Thanks to a 10-minute period sparked by a Maria Paseka four-pointer and sent into overdrive by an Indie Bostock double, the minor premiers took a six-point advantage into the sheds.

The second stanza became a stalemate of sorts with neither team able to capitalise on attacking opportunities for an extended stretch.

It was interchange middle Bronte Wilson – who will make the leap up to the Dragons NRLW squad this season – who steamed through a hole off skipper Kasey Reh to score under the sticks late and ensure that the Tarsha Gale Cup would be on a bus south later that evening.

It proved a fitting end to a season in which Crawford's outfit won all eight of their regular season matchups and both of the postseason clashes en route to the Steelers' second Tarsha Gale Cup title; the first being a poetic 24-12 win over the Knights five years ago.

“It's a really special group,” Crawford said.

“A lot of them are really good friends... It drove that motivation with the group. They love playing for the Steelers. Apart from two girls, they're all local girls, so just playing for their local area and playing together was really important to them and I think it was a big reason why we were successful.”

There's some exceptional talent there but, in the end, we won that Grand Final based on working hard for each other and that's what our whole season was based on.

Steelers Tarsha Gale Cup head coach Courtney Crawford

As talented as the group was, Crawford maintains that it was the intangibles – chemistry, work ethic, and poise – that they had steadily honed since their preseason kicked off in November that proved the catalyst for their triumph.

“There's obviously a lot of talent in the squad but our ability to put that together as a team was really important. I think their ability to connect as a team and work hard for each other really counted,” she said.

“We knew we had the squad here that, if we came together and worked hard for one another, we could have a really successful season... There's some exceptional talent there but, in the end, we won that Grand Final based on working hard for each other and that's what our whole season was based on.”

With the first half of the decider – which included an opening minute Knights four-pointer – not going precisely to plan, it was the maturity of the squad that pleased Crawford most.

“The way we matured across the season was pleasing as a coach to see,” she said.

“We knew Newcastle were going to be a tough opposition. They worked hard for each other and did the basics really well. For us to stay composed and trust the systems that we've built since November, it was a really mature performance and one that we had to work hard for but that came from our willingness to work hard for each other throughout the whole year.”

Reh, who was awarded the competition's Player of the Series, was just one of the side's stars that Crawford heaped praise on.

“She was massive and that's why she was our captain. She is one of the hardest working young players coming through and she leads through her actions but, when she speaks, you can see the whole group listens,” Crawford said.

2024 Tarsha Gale Cup Player of the Series Kasey Reh.
2024 Tarsha Gale Cup Player of the Series Kasey Reh.

“The Steelers jersey isn't the highest honour that we will see Kasey represent. She's heading into the Dragons NRLW team this year, so it's an exciting time for her. As long as she continues to work hard and put her best foot forward, I'm sure her next representative jersey isn't too far away.”

Crawford, who is progressing through the ranks in her own right, will spend time with the Under 19s Women's Country and Under 19s Women's NSW squads before stepping up into an assistant role with the Dragons NRLW side under head coach Jamie Soward.

“It's a pretty jam-packed footy season for me but I'm just really excited to learn off some great coaches,” she said.

“Sowie's been a mentor of mine for a number of years now, so I'm really looking forward to working with him at the NRLW level and seeing where that goes.”

Acknowledgement of Country

St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

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