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ACT Brumbies' latest signing, Joanne Butler / Photos provided by Rugby Australia

Joanne Butler has become the first PNG woman to join Australia's Super W rugby competition after securing a PacificAus Sports scholarship with the ACT Brumbies. Butler becomes the latest Pacific scholarship recipient ahead of the 2024 Super W season following an announcement by the Australian Government last November for players from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.

Butler’s placement was announced in Port Moresby by Prime Minister of PNG, Hon. James Marape and marks a momentous milestone in her rugby career and for PNG Rugby Union (PNGRU). This achievement is a direct outcome of the PacificAus Sports program’s support for rugby in the Pacific and PNG, a transformative partnership between the Australian Government, Rugby Australia, and Oceania Rugby.

Designed to provide opportunities for athletes from the Pacific region to compete at the highest levels, PacificAus Sports has played a crucial role in bridging gaps and establishing pathways for aspiring rugby players across the Pacific and PNG. Butler’s inclusion in the ACT Brumbies is a living testament to the positive outcomes of this cooperative initiative.

Butler spoke of her excitement and appreciation for the opportunity to play at the highest level:

"Glory to God Almighty for steering my life’s journey and opening this incredible door for me. The recent news and the past few days have felt surreal, yet I approach this opportunity with deep humility as I join the ACT Brumbies on a scholarship placement and begin the Super W journey. 

Thanks to PacificAus Sports, Rugby Australia and Oceania Rugby, women in the Pacific now have a solid platform to progress to elite rugby.  Special gratitude to PNGRU for reviving women’s rugby and to the PNG Government for supporting the women’s program. I extend my thanks to everyone involved in my rugby journey, especially my father, whose passion for rugby inspired me to play.  

My sincere hope is that this achievement inspires fellow Papua New Guineans and Pacific Islanders to fearlessly pursue their aspirations. I encourage more women and girls to embrace rugby union because life changing opportunities for women in the sport, are growing".

PNGRU extended its thanks to the Australian Government, Rugby Australia and Oceania Rugby for this powerful partnership which is transforming lives, and wished Joanne Butler the very best in her new endeavor with the ACT Brumbies. Cybelle Wari, Founder of Women’s Rugby in PNG, current PNGRU Board Member and Women’s Rugby Director spoke of the significance of Butler's achievement:

“The success of athletes like Joanne Butler underscores the importance of establishing robust platforms for talent development. We (PNGRU) express our gratitude to the Australian Government, particularly through PacificAus Sports, for continuing to impact sports development in PNG and the Pacific. The inception of the women’s code in 2006 marked a crucial milestone, and 17 years later, we have finally reached a destination we have long envisioned.

Joanne’s signing holds significant meaning, representing the culmination of sacrifices, dedication, and investments that have gone into women’s rugby in PNG from our humble beginnings up to this point in time. We are confident that Joanne will make a substantial impact with the ACT Brumbies, serving as an inspiration for young rugby enthusiasts in Papua New Guinea and across Oceania.”

Acting Australian High Commissioner to PNG, Dr Joanne Loundes spoke of the Australian Government’s pride in offering opportunities for Pacific players like Butler to excel:

“The Australian Government is thrilled that Joanne will have the opportunity to play with the ACT Brumbies for the 2024 season and join the other talented Pacific players that are now on Australian Super W scholarships through PacificAus Sports.

We’re excited to see a locally grown Papua New Guinean in the Super W and we acknowledge Joanne’s hard work and sacrifices to get to this elite level. We also recognize the contributions to Joanne’s development from PNG Rugby Union, its coaches and the clubs.

The Australian Government is proud to be increasing pathways for aspiring female athletes in the Pacific who offer inspiration for women and girls across the region to pursue their dreams. We wish Joanne the best of luck for the season ahead.”

Butler will join fellow Pacific players Neomai Vunga and Fa'alua Tugaga (injured) at the ACT Brumbies, with Suititi Ma'ake and Seneti Kilisimasi at the Western Force, and Ana Mamea and Easter Savelio with the Melbourne Rebels.

The Super W season kicks off on March 15.

Butler with Acting Australian High Commissioner to PNG, Dr Joanne Loundes and other members of the Australian High Commission / Photos provided by Australian High Commission Papua New Guinea
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