During Oceania Rugby and Rugby Australia’s Women in Rugby Month, Rugby Victoria will be featuring the stories of the Victorian Women who make up our great game. Women in Rugby.. respect!
The lifeblood of any community club is its volunteers.
Presidents, committee members, coaches, team managers, referees, parents and the like provide the heartbeat of their community and can give a greater impact on the game than those on the field.
Donna Arahanga, her partner Elliot Hunt and her four rugby-loving kids have been ingrained in the Melton Rugby Club since 2016. Her son Parish joined the Under 9s in 2016, the year that Melton’s Juniors relaunched after not fielding any sides for several years. Her daughter Donell – originally a basketballer - joined in 2018, followed by twins Felix and Piripi in 2019.
However, when faced with the prospect of Donnell not having the ability to play the sport she loves past Under 12s, Donna took on the role of Junior Coordinator at Melton Rugby Club with a clear vision.
Inspired by her children, she worked tirelessly behind the scenes to pave the way for the club’s first-ever Under 16 Youth Girls team.
From only expecting to the field two Junior teams this season in Under 14s and Under 12s, Donna’s selfless drive to provide the next generation of girls an opportunity to play rugby saw the club field an additional Under 16 A and B team as well as an Under 10 team.
“It started with the Under 12 girls team that we had,” Donna said.
“There were girls that needed to go up to an all-girls team and there just wasn’t an option for them.”
“They were all really keen to keep going but no one wanted to step in and coach.”
“Initially, it was my daughter that brought a lot of friends down to training – there were five of them that turned up. Then we had siblings that would come down and jump into training. We had to split the teams into in older and younger girls.”
“It just grew from there. It was all word of mouth. We had one clinic with over 30 girls. I was getting so many emails and messages - even once we had submitted our team. Our intake was so fast.”
“There were players in my daughter team that we did it for. I’m hopeful that next season we should have double the players.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Melton’s Youth Girls. After preparing for a year of traditional Rugby Union, the team was thrown the challenge of a new game, Touch 7s, on the eve of the season.
But with Donna’s partner Elliot Hunt using his extensive rugby experience to switch from Coach of her son’s team to take charge of the U16 Youth Girls, nothing was going to get in their way. Instead, the girls took it in their stride, learnt a brand-new game and flourished to sit on top of the ladder for most of the season.
“We had to learn the rules of a new game quickly,” she said.
“But the girls picked it up really fast.”
“They were training so hard that they were training more than everyone at the club. Doing extras, training in the rain when no one else would. They would train regardless. Nothing stopped them.”
“Overall, it’s been a great achievement to see the girls learn, grow and love the game. It was great to see the girls’ making friends with other clubs. We always had group photos with other teams and the other clubs made us feel so welcome.”
“It was kind of meant to be; everything fell into place. It was a brilliant season.”
As Junior Coordinator, some of Donna’s roles involve team organising and structuring, providing up to date information to all Team Managers and Coaches, offering reassurance to families during a covid interrupted season and organising fundraising and community sponsorships.
However, her most important role might be as a Mum of four rugby playing kids.
As Team Manager of the Under 16 Youth Girls, Donna would incredibly take it upon herself to pick up all the players and take them to and from games - clocking up hundreds of kilometres around Victoria.
“It’s tough but rewarding as well,” she said.
“Part of being Team Manager and Junior Coordinator is making sure that kids can play. We have a lot of kids that have financial issues that just can’t get to the games. Elliot and I have a 7-seater, so he would take half the team in his truck and then I would pick up and drop off a whole lot of kids, just to make sure everyone got to game day.”
“It was a lot to ask but at the end of the day, as Coach and Team Manager, we wanted everyone there, so we did what we had to do. It wasn’t an issue for us.”
For the last two years, Donna has juggled her duties at Melton Rugby Club with studying for a nursing degree full time. After graduating in April, she is now a fully qualified nurse, using her new skillset as Club Medical Coordinator.
According to Donna, her passion for the club and vision for her children kept her going.
“Juggling that at the time was challenging,” she said.
“I did it for the kids.”
“For me, the biggest part is being able to work alongside people with the same goal; to help build the future of these kids. Absolutely, I feel proud.”
“For us, we didn’t even think we would field a team, and then we fielded five teams.”
“I’ve grown so close to the club, and I love being involved and helping where I can. It means a lot to me now.”
“In a nutshell, it’s all for the kids.”
Despite two covid interrupted seasons, the Melton Rugby Club has carried on to achieve record fundraising and sponsorships. The community has rallied behind the club to provide vouchers and product merchandise – most notably for the Youth Girls team.
“The Juniors is in the best spot it’s ever been. Everyone says it,” Donna said.
“We’ve got a strong committee this year; everything is so transparent. The communication has been really good. It’s been a great season.”
“We are hoping to get back to two levels of every grade. We want to keep building our numbers. Now we have a rugby academy that has been introduced to Melton Secondary College. It’s a huge advantage for our club and a lot of our players attend that school, so we’ve encouraged them to apply for that academy.”
“We’ve had great support from Rugby Victoria; everyone has been so supportive. It was a really tough season this year with lockdowns. It was a scary time for some families. Last year was the hardest but I think this year we were a little bit more prepared.”
It took a full club effort for Melton to relaunch its Juniors in 2016.
But now Melton Rugby Club deserve its status as one of Victoria’s strongest emerging rugby clubs and the home of rugby in the western suburbs.
“The commitment from our coaches has been unbelievable.,” Donna said.
“The Under 12s coach this year, Nathan, has had the team since Under 8s and taken them right to the top. They have been undefeated for years; he’s done an amazing job.”
“It’s coaches like Nathan, Elliot and Clint who have really committed and dedicated themselves, even to the point of taking on the rugby coaching and courses from Rugby Victoria.”
“They would take the extra mile and help rebuild the club. It’s been a lot of commitment and dedication from a lot of individuals.”
Current Melton Warriors Rugby Club President Mike Borell could not contain his glowing praise for unheralded Junior Coordinator, Team Manager and Rugby mum.
“Donna Arahanga is an incredible asset to Melton Warriors Rugby Club,” he said.
“Through Donna's vision and hard work as club Junior Coordinator, she developed two Under 16 Girls touch teams in our Junior grades. She manages both teams alongside co-managing the Under 10s mixed team. Donna is also involved in our club " team muscle" which is a group of super mums who are the backbone of the club.”
“She is also our club Medical Coordinator (as a registered nurse) which is another huge undertaking during covid. Alongside this Donna manages the Melton Secondary College Rugby team and is mum of 5.
“Donna is truly unique and is a very special person to the Melton Rugby Club.”
Women in all aspects of rugby union are being celebrated this September during Oceania Rugby’s Women in Rugby Month. The month celebrates the achievements of Women in Rugby who inspire the next generation to pick up a rugby ball and enjoy everything that the game has to offer.
According to Donna, the Melton Under 16 Youth Girls team is only the start of something special.
“I think there is a massive future for women and youth girls in rugby,” she said.
“There is a great opportunity for the youth with the future development of the Super W precinct in the works.”
“We have so much potential out in Melton, I’m super excited to see where we can take it. The Youth Girls have grown so much since I’ve been involved with the club. Even just the support from families and the community who have gotten behind the girls and supported them anyway they can. It’s been amazing the support we’ve had from everyone in the community.”
“Things are looking pretty good for women in rugby.”
Themed, ‘Women in Rugby… Respect’, the month has showcased why respect for all girls and women in rugby is vital to increasing engagement, participation and development in the sport.
“Respect means everything,” Donna said.
“I want them to be who they are without any judgement. Making sure that they respect themselves enough to respect others as well. I just want to create that opportunity for youth girls and let individuals be their authentic self.”
The Melton Rugby Club is already looking ahead to next season with aspiring plans of even fielding a first-ever women’s senior grade next year.
One thing is for certain. The work of Donna Arahanga and the Melton Club Juniors will be felt for generations to come.
“We are even hopeful that we can start our first-ever women’s senior team.”
“I hope that we can see a lot more local and young talent join our club and just more development of rugby for women in our community. Hopefully, we can build future players for Victoria. We have so much talent and optimism in front of us, I think there is so much potential out there.”
“It’s just about getting these players on the field and moulding them into the best they can be.”