Rugby “tragic” makes history in the top grade

Beth Whaanga has taken on the coaching role at the Gold Rats - Newsreel
Beth Whaanga has become the first female coach in the northern NSW rugby competition. | Photo: Supplied by Southern Cross University.

A northern NSW rugby union side has appointed its first female coach to coincide with its return to the top-grade competition.

Beth Whaanga has taken on the coaching job for the Southern Cross University Gold Rats, becoming the first woman to coach a men’s team in Far North Coast rugby union.

Beth is a Master of Laws student with an extensive family background in rugby.

Her father, Jim Fuggle, was coach and club president of the Wollongbar-Alstonville club in Northern NSW, and this was also where Beth began her interest in the game.

“He (Jim) is a rugby tragic and I wouldn’t be a rugby tragic without my dad,” she said.

“We did ballet and we played rugby; these are the two things in our family, plus piano lessons and singing. Sport’s always been my safe space. Growing up in the Northern Rivers in the 1990s, there wasn’t really a lot. You had to make your own fun and sport played a big part in that for me.”

Beth’s appointment, which encompasses the role of director of coaching across the club, coincides with the return of the Rats to the top grade.

“2024 is an opportunity to rebuild the club after the pandemic and the floods, and from what I’m seeing the Gold Rats will be competitive this season,” she said.

“We’ve got a couple of old heads in there alongside some passionate young men who really want to make a difference.

“The boys have been so respectful and so engaging, and I’ve seen such growth and development from this squad already. I’ve never seen a group of men who are so loyal to a university, ever!

“They live and breathe the Southern Crossing University Gold Rats.”

Beth honed her impressive rugby resume over two decades. She has worked as a coach and in pathways roles, including at Super Rugby level in Queensland and Western Australia.

“I have World Rugby Level 3 accreditation which means I can coach at international level,” she said. “I’m one of five female coaches in this country at that level. I’ve also completed the AIS High-Performance Talent Program for coaching.

“I was the first woman to coach GPS rugby, which is elite schoolboy rugby. For 10 years I was the only women on the east coast working in senior men’s rugby union as either a head or assistant coach.”

Beth is in the final stages of a Master of Laws at Southern Cross University to complement her Masters in Criminology and another in forensic mental health. She has been a Southern Cross alumna since completing a Bachelor of Nursing in 2010.

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