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Ana Fotu - second from left - after winning the 2020 division one women's premiership.

When remarkable rugby league volunteer Ana Fotu read Wayne Bennett’s book Don’t Die With The Music In You she knew she had plenty of hits and memories to create herself.

Fotu’s contribution to Pine Central Holy Spirit Rugby League Club is music to the ears to all lovers of rugby league, for without selfless contributions the game would not survive.

Along with being the club’s female development officer, Fotu is also the Pine Central Holy Spirit club vice-president, coaches the under 16s division one girls' team, and is an open women’s player at prop forward.

She also handles the club’s media on Facebook and delivers the NRL Tackle Ready program to youngsters.

Since taking on the female development role in 2020, the club’s female teams have doubled from four to eight.

Ana Fotu - second from left - after winning the 2020 division one women's premiership.
Ana Fotu - second from left - after winning the 2020 division one women's premiership.

“I read Wayne Bennett’s book and that really inspired me,” Fotu said.

“I find that he talks to players the way they want to be spoken to. It is a culture thing, and that is a really big thing for us at this club to create a family environment for all our age groups so they keep coming back and we retain our players.

“It is fulfilling and satisfying to watch girls grow and develop into ladies when they leave us.

“I’ve been playing footy since I was 21 and I am 40 now. My involvement in female footy has inspired me to continue off the field.

“I think it is just a love of the game. I have got two girls who play and that is why I am heavily involved, to make sure they have got a club to play for and to ensure they have girls playing alongside them.”

Nominated for the Queensland Rugby League's monthly Harvey Norman Female Contribution Award, Fotu describes her involvement as a family affair.

Daughters Toni-Lee, 14, and Charlie-Rose, 12, both play, and partner Tony coaches at the club.

When Fotu went to the club in 2015 to help start an open women’s team she was immediately impressed by the welcome.

“We came from a union club next door and walked into the club and felt a real family environment straight away, and that’s the reason we decided to sign up,” Fotu said.

The Fotu family.
The Fotu family.

Fotu sat down with the club committee and suggested putting on a female development officer. They were right behind her and she proactively went to work advertising for players and using her league network.

“We’ve had eight female teams for the past two years,” Fotu said.

That includes female under 12s teams, two in the under 14s, along with an under 16s, 18s and open women’s outfit. That continuity through the age groups is proving to be a successful formula to ensure girls can play from a young age and have a secure pathway right through to the open age division.

Fotu works fulltime during the week and spends 30 to 35 hours in her roles at the club. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’ve found rugby league to be a great networking thing for me to find friends and reach out to people who share things in common with me,” Fotu said.

“It is where I have been able to build my own community around me, and the way we run it at Pine Central is very similar to that. We normally have a pre-season in November and December where we invite everyone from under 12s to open women’s and we train them all together.

“We tell the girls they all need to know each other’s names and say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ to each other because they are all under the same umbrella. It is to make the girls feel like they are wanted and feel like there is a home for them. That is culture for us, and culture is a really big thing.”

The under 16s girl's division one team for 2022.
The under 16s girl's division one team for 2022.

Fotu’s work is building confidence in girls and enabling them to overcome challenges. Her own daughters are an example.

“We see the girls grow and the reason they come back is because we show them we care,” Fotu said.

“We get to know them outside of footy and when we chat to them it is about life. Myself and my partner both coach. We are counsellors as well. Tony has been a big support and is the reason I can do this.

“We’ve had kids come from broken homes and we provide an environment that is an escape for them from everyday life and its burdens and where they can enjoy their sport and have fun.

“My oldest daughter was bullied at a young age but playing sport has built confidence in her. We felt that keeping her moving and busy would hopefully keep other things out of her mind rather than sitting at home. State of mind is a really big thing for me as a mother.”

Pine Central Holy Spirit players taking part in a weights session.
Pine Central Holy Spirit players taking part in a weights session.

The club has recognised representative ability in many of their girls so have utilised sponsorship money to implement six-week gym sessions to build their strength.

This year Pine Central is fielding 38 teams all up, which includes approximately 800 players and volunteers.

“Our committee is awesome. Anything I need, they are very supportive,” Fotu said.

“That goes for our coaching staff and all our volunteers with the female program. I probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.”

For more information on the QRL's 2022 community awards or to nominate a volunteer at your club, click here.

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Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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