“It’s a really great time to be a female in sport,” Tara Rushton passionately tells a captivated audience of student journalists at her alma mater, Macleay College.
A leading lady of the sports media, Rushton is living proof of the sentiment she shares.
In her role as a presenter on Fox Sports, heading much of the channel’s football coverage, Rushton is known for many things: her effervescent personality, her glamorous looks, her natural television performance talent. But above all else, she’s recognised as a hard-working, outstanding sports journalist.
And while Rushton says she had the quintessential Australian sporting upbringing – playing football in the backyard with her father and siblings – it was the unscripted drama of watching sport that drove her to pursue a career reporting on it.
“There’s something intangible about live sport. You don’t know what’s going to happen to it, you have to react to it, it’s emotional,” she explains. “For some people, it is religion and it’s something that brings us together – and it’s something that can also tear us apart.”
Her route to landing a gig in the sports media was far from conventional and took her on a journey across the world. After dabbling in modelling and acting work, Rushton decided to move to London at 18 for a “year of exploration”.
She later travelled to Singapore and broke into the industry through hosting an English Premier League-based program called Tiger Goals. That was eight years ago, and she hasn’t looked back since.
In 2013, Rushton replaced Mel McLaughlin as the face of football on Fox Sports and quickly endeared herself to viewers. It appeared a meteoric rise – but Rushton says that wasn’t the case.
“I had always done work placement, I was at TV Hits Magazine, Disney Adventures Magazine. I was in that building, hustling for work, I was on the phone. I just wanted to work – I would’ve worked anywhere. I worked for free for months.”
In the beginning of her days at Fox Sports, however, Rushton admits she struggled to adapt to the new demands and environment.
“It was so tough. I hadn’t lived in Australia for four years … there’s so much more competition, and it’s cutthroat,” she explains.
“For me, it was a really, really tough transition, and what was so hard, to be completely honest, was that I was always compared to the person that I replaced.
“Everything you shouldn’t do on television I did in my first year, everything you shouldn’t say I did in my first year. I didn’t ask the right questions and I felt like I’d just been thrust into this role, and they took a massive punt on me.”
The punt Fox Sports took has clearly paid off, Rushton having now forged an identity as one of the best sports presenters in the country. Still, there’s an added element of complication in her work. She’s married to one of the top rugby league players in the world, Sydney Roosters halfback Cooper Cronk, with whom she’s expecting a child this year.
“Of course, it can be really difficult [to balance], because I work in an environment and come in contact with all sorts of rugby league journalists and presenters on a day-to-day basis, we share the same office,” she says.
“People are invested; they’ll talk about his performance on the weekend, they’ll ask me if he’s nervous, they’ll ask me how he’s enjoying Sydney. They’ll ask me 50 questions that they could’ve asked him if they went to the press conference and put a microphone to him and asked him that themselves.
“That can be difficult because they’re your colleagues and your mates, but you kind of want to keep that private for yourself as well … But let’s be honest, it’s not a struggle. [Cooper and I] support and love each other’s work, and it probably just means we watch a lot of sport in the house, which is completely fine with me.”
Looking ahead, Rushton is excited about the plethora of new opportunities for females in sport, especially with the rise of the W-League, AFLW and the recently announced NRL women’s competition.
“[Professional women’s competitions] are giving pathways to a lot of up and coming female athletes who would never have thought they’d be able to monetise their hobbies,” she says.
“There are now viable means for women to play and have careers in sport, and also from that perspective it means that there are a lot of opportunities for women in journalism to work closely with women in sports.”
Right she is; the future is bright. Rest assured, the next generation of female sports journalists will be inspired by incredible trailblazers like Tara Rushton. – Interview and story by Troy Whittaker, video by Montana Duncan