Former Wallaroo guiding Mackay girls down rugby path
CHLOE Butler knows what it takes to get to the top of the rugby union tree and is turning her determination to giving Mackay girls that same opportunity.
She’s got the runs on the board – several of them – with an illustrious national and international playing career almost behind her as she finds new form as the Mackay District Rugby Union development officer.
And it is in that role that new career options and pathways are opening up for Mackay, Isaac and Whitsunday girls on the rugby field.
The first taste of those opportunities is this weekend under the newly minted Extreme Excavators Mackay and Region Girls Rugby Competition at Quarry Hill – something Butler is excited about.
“When I came to Mackay there wasn’t a girls competition and I realised there were probably girls here with a lot of talent,” Butler said.
“So I went to the schools with try rugby sessions and found a number of girls with lots of talent who wanted to scratch the surface.”
That’s grown into 30 girls lining up for the new competition, with under-15s and under-17s playing this weekend as curtain raisers to the MRU’s City v Kuttabul A-grade men’s match.
“This is the first round with three games every Saturday so each team will get to play three games,” Butler said.
“We’ve got nine weeks and play every second week because we’ve got teams travelling from as far as Emerald so it would exhaust parents.
“This weekend will be the curtain raiser for the men’s’ (and) the girls will play up until that.”
Mackay, Emerald and Whitsunday have teams, with the Burdekin and Charters Towers on board for a one-off invitational round.
Butler hopes Townsville and Rockhampton will also join the competition.
The competition is a new element to union for Butler but one she is keen to embrace as she develops the skills of her players.
And while the interest in the game has been strong, it wasn’t a major surprise for Butler.
“We started with a handful of girls at training and are now pushing numbers of about 30,” she said.
“The girls are super willing to learn. The boys are too but girls tend to absorb it as well.
“They just really enjoy it and the opportunities I’ve been giving them (advice) at training to enhance their clinic skills and rugby IQ.
“Being a local girl growing up in north Queensland, I’ve always known the athletic calibre here.”
So with natural talent, it became about changing the mindset of those interested to get involved, run the ball and focus an intensity on the field – while being inspired by Butler’s own career in the game.
“It wasn’t really a surprise that these girls’ baseline skills were above average – the catch, pass and tackles,” Butler said.
“It’s about fine tuning those in different positions and personal attributes.”
And Butler knows how far you can go in the game.
She has 13 caps for Australia including two Rugby World Cup appearances – the last in Ireland in 2017, when she admits to crying when the jerseys were being handed out.
She also ran out for Richmond FC in the Tyrrell’s Women’s Rugby Championship and, most recently, for Harlequins.
But has she formally retired from playing?
“I haven’t officially retired because you’re meant to have a big hurrah and it’s very unsettling and a hard thing to give up,” she admitted.
“There’s still a little bit of hope, that the last time I played wasn’t the last time I played.”
What the immediate future holds, though, is nurturing the next generation of young female rugby players.
“If I was asked as a kid running around barefoot in the Gulf that I would go on to play in the World Cup and Tri-Nations….” Butler trailed off.
“I’m appreciative for all those milestones, and I’m offering that grassroots quality coaching because I know what it takes from day dot all the way up.”
Games kick off at 9.30am Saturday when Mackay takes on Whitsunday at the Quarry Hill Rugby Union fields at North Mackay.