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Coaching coup for SCU Gold Rats rugby

Gold Rats coach Beth Whaanga with team


1 May 2024

Beth Whaanga has created history as the first woman to coach a men's team in the Far North Coast rugby union, taking the reins of the Southern Cross University Gold Rats first-grade side.

The Master of Laws student brings extensive rugby acumen and coaching experience to the role along with a pedigree that continues the legacy of her father, Jim Fuggle, in the local competition.

Beth’s appointment, which encompasses the role of director of coaching across the club, coincides with the return of 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. We've got a couple of old heads in there alongside some passionate young men who really want to make a difference,” Beth said.

“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.”

Main picture: coach Beth Whaanga (centre) at a Monday night training session with (l-r) Josh Wilson, Jeremy Bull, captain Mitchell Bird, president Tim Breen, manager Scott Sinclair and Jake Henry.

Gold Rats coach Beth Whaanga at training
Coaching coup: Beth Whaanga leads the team through its paces.

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

“I have World Rugby Level 3 accreditation which means I can coach at international level. 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.”

“I'd love to see more female players engage at Southern Cross. I’d love to mentor some of these young women in the area.”

Gold Rats coach Beth Whaanga

Gold Rats club president Tim Breen said he jumped at the opportunity to nab Beth for the first-grade coaching vacancy.

“Beth coached a number of far north coast girls on an Australian Raptors Rugby Academy representative tour of Spain late last year and was introduced to me as a high-level coach who was returning to the region,” Tim said.

“She came highly recommended by Sean Hedger, a professional rugby coach and Southern Cross University alumni.”

As the club’s director of coaching, Beth’s focus in helping rebuild the rugby program from the ground up extends to the women’s and junior’s teams too.

“Rugby is a place for everyone: big, small, male, female, whatever. We want this to be a family club. Sport teaches respect, authority, rules, engaging with peers and communicating effectively,” she said.

“I'd love to see more female players engage at Southern Cross. I’d love to mentor some of these young women in the area and really give them some of the knowledge that I have.”

Gold Rats coach Beth Whaanga with captain and president
President Tim Breen (right) with Beth Whaanga and captain Mitchell Bird.

Family ties run deep

Family was the catalyst for Beth’s return to the Northern Rivers two years ago, yet being able to pursue both her sporting ambitions and career at the same time has been the icing on the cake.

She heeded the call to help rebuild her father’s legal practice, James Fuggle Rummery Solicitors in Lismore, after the premises was wiped out in the 2022 floods.

“It was my way of giving back to my parents,” Beth said.

Her rugby roots can be traced back to growing up playing for Wollongbar-Alstonville, where dad Jim Fuggle was a coach and club president.

“He's 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 90s, there wasn't really a lot. You had to make your own fun and sport played a big part in that for me.”

Jim’s passion for criminal law also rubbed off on his daughter. 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.

“Working across multiple aspects of corrections and detention, my primary focus is the rehabilitation and advocacy for youth offenders, particularly linking troubled youth offenders to better outlets such as sport to prevent recidivism,” said Beth.

Gold Rats coach Beth Whaanga

Overcoming adversity and set-backs

Beth is humble about her many firsts in a traditionally male sport.

“I've done quite well through quite a lot of adversity and conscious and unconscious gender bias,” Beth said. “It's quite unusual to see a female coaching male players, but when I came through there were no other female coaches for me to learn from. I had to tap into my male colleagues’ knowledge so that I could get better, come out on top and now be able to pass my knowledge on to other women who are interested in those coaching avenues.

“At the same time, I've been really lucky to mentor some coaches and to coach some very famous athletes. I've got current athletes in Super Rugby Australian Sevens all over the world - including sisters Teagan Levi and Maddie Levi. I'm proud of them; they are extraordinary athletes, humble and hardworking. So many different coaches contribute to an athlete's development.”

Beth’s rough and tumble childhood, combined with a positive outlook, ensured she was made of sterner stuff to face serious health issues in adulthood.

A decade ago, she overcame a battle with breast cancer after being diagnosed as carrying the BRCA2 gene. Beth’s Under the Red Dress project raised awareness for women dealing with breast cancer. The mother-of-four also had an operation on her spine last year.

“Yes, I've had a rough life. But you know what? Whenever anyone talks about my accomplishments, that's all the tragedies in my life. I think that I've got a balance: for every tragedy, there's been a triumph. And if you get stuck on the tragedies, you end up being the person in the corner crying. Or you can learn and you can live and you can move forward.

“That's what I've chosen to do: keep moving forward.”

Far North Coast Rugby Union

The 2024 Far North Coast first-grade rugby season kicked off last weekend (April 27), with a new-look 10-team competition to be played over 18 rounds.

Southern Cross University Gold Rats

All new players are welcome. Training is on Monday and Wednesday nights from 6pm at Maurie Ryan Oval at the Lismore Campus.

Media contact

Sharlene King, Media Office at Southern Cross University +61 429 661 349 or [email protected]