Cootamundra's Jessica Neale wins 2020 Sydney Royal Showgirl competition

WOMEN STANDING STRONG: Second runner-up Kate Webster, the Sydney Royal Showgirl Jessica Neale and first runner-up Stephanie Ferguson. Picture: Lucy Kinbacher
WOMEN STANDING STRONG: Second runner-up Kate Webster, the Sydney Royal Showgirl Jessica Neale and first runner-up Stephanie Ferguson. Picture: Lucy Kinbacher

It's been a long wait, but the 2020 Sydney Royal Showgirl has finally been announced, with the Riverina dominating the top three.

The Cootamundra showgirl, Jessica Neale, took out the competition while the second runner-up was the Wagga showgirl Kate Webster.

Ms Neale told The Rural she was shocked after the win but was utterly thrilled and honoured.

"The other women are so incredible," she said.

The 2020 Sydney Royal Showgirl competition was delayed due to COVID-19, but Ms Neale said it gave the women a chance to form a closer bond and learn even more before the big day.

Living and working in Sydney as a policy advisor to the education minister while studying to be a teacher, Ms Neale was looking for a way to give back.

"Cootamundra isn't where I am from," she said. "It's my partner's hometown, and it's where we want to end up. Coming to the show was about putting down roots in this community."

Ms Neale is preparing for a busy year ahead and is looking forward to meeting more people. She encouraged other regional women to think about signing up.

Stephanie Ferguson. Picture: Lucy Kinbacher

Stephanie Ferguson. Picture: Lucy Kinbacher

"What it is at its core is a platform for women to have a voice, meet other women and learn new things," Ms Neale said. "It's an incredibly modern notion to have that platform. Don't knock it till you try it."

The win keeps the Sydney Royal Showgirl title in Riverina, with Walbundrie's Stephanie Clancy holding the role for the past two years.

Kate Webster was announced as the second runner-up, which she called a complete surprise but was proud of how much she achieved.

Recently graduated with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science with honours, she has started work with a meat industry research advisory organisation.

"I grew as a person and exceeded even my own expectations," Ms Webster said.

"I was such a shy person, and public speaking and networking were always daunting when you don't understand how to make connections.

"Even in that one week at the [Sydney Royal Easter] show, I progressed more than I could ever have dreamt."

It was an emotional passing of the baton for Ms Clancy, who teared up as she told the crowd, gathered at the Sydney Royal Show amphitheatre how humbled and honoured she was to have represented the show.

Stephanie Ferguson, the runner-up, represented her home town Bathurst but is currently living and studying in Wagga.

She admits she used to be someone who never saw themselves signing up to the Showgirl competition.

"I never owned a pair of stockings before this, and I didn't appreciate it," Ms Ferguson said.

"The outdated stigma is not what it is inside. It's full of powerful, passionate women who are looking for a chance to network and give a hand up to the young women in their communities.

"It was never my intention to enter, but I did it to support my local show society."

Ms Ferguson said she had learnt so many lessons over the months, adding all the women she met are "incredible".

"From the grassroots to the state final, every one of them is deserving of respect and appreciation," she said.

"As I have proceeded on this journey, I have gained new networks, friends, contacts and a new outlook on life. I am so grateful."

All women in the top three said the group of competitors were extremely close, and they would encourage anyone to sign up.

"Give it a shot," Ms Webster said. "You would be crazy not to."