Beth breaks down barriers for women in sport

IT is fitting that Beth Whaanga developed her love for the game growing up in and around the Wollongbar-Alstonville Pioneers rugby union club.

Beth has gone on to become a pioneer in her own right, leading the way for women to tackle administration and coaching roles in a male dominated sporting industry.

Her dedication and professionalism has seen her work with two Super Rugby franchises while coaching junior boys and men over the last decade.

It all started at the Wollongbar rugby club when her father Jim Fuggle took on multiple roles as a coach, club president and referee for many years.

"I was probably the only girl playing at the time and dad had me marking the fields with him and working the barbecue, whatever I could do basically," Beth said.

"I ended up coming back a few years ago to present the women's team with their jerseys before they played in the first female grand final, so that's how far it's come."

Beth is one of seven kids in her family and has gone on to have four children of her own.

She started making a name for herself in rugby about a decade ago when she was a skills coach in Queensland.

Beth broke down barriers for women by coaching junior schoolboy teams in Queensland.

Beth broke down barriers for women by coaching junior schoolboy teams in Queensland.

"I was the first woman in 30 years to coach GPS (male private schoolboy) rugby and that was a massive thing," Beth said.

"Everyone said they were never going to let me do it, but I did it anyway and they kept me around because we got the results.

"I knew I could do it, I just needed to be given an opportunity.

"I didn't see another female coach until I was 35, there is a lot of gender bias when people see women on the sideline.

"I've been told to go back to coaching girls and you had people that didn't want me coaching their son.

"That has stung at times but I've never short changed myself, you'll never reach your goal if you give up that easily."

"I work with some pretty vulnerable people in mental health and rugby has always been a release."

Beth is now 40 and has overcome plenty of obstacles along the way, including her battle with breast cancer eight years ago.

She has a double Master's Degree in criminology and criminal justice along with Forensic Mental Health which she has spent most of her time in.

For Beth its all about supporting players on and off the rugby field.

For Beth its all about supporting players on and off the rugby field.

Currently she is one of only five females to be accredited at a Level 3 standard for coaching rugby.

"Nothing is going to happen unless you work for it and I never expected to be given anything," Beth said.

"I want my daughter to be able to say 'my mum did that' and I want women transitioning out of the game to know there are options there for them.

"I'm happy to go through some of the stuff I've gone through if it makes it easier for other women.

"Even when I had cancer I was still working with rugby clubs.

"The club I was at during the time supported me and helped get my kids to and from training and all that sort of stuff, that's one of the great things with rugby, it's like a big family."

Family commitments and being away from her kids during the Covid-19 pandemic saw her move back from Western Australia after taking on a female path and development officer at the Force.

She looks forward to returning to coaching next season after taking on the role as women's premier coach at the Western Sydney Two Blues at Parramatta.

"I'm really excited about this one, I've spent time with the SuperW and Wallaroos girls recently," she said.

"I'll still be doing some skills stuff when the men which is great.

"The people out there in Western Sydney are amazing and I was looking for a club that reminded me of what I had at Wollongbar.

"Joining the Two Blues is a great fit for me and I love the community feel of the place.

"Rugby has a place for everyone no matter who you are and that's why it's so special."