Former New Zealand rugby player Ronnie Patea is the latest man to tackle one of the toughest coaching gigs in Australian sport.
Following the departure of the highly decorated John Muggleton recently, Patea was officially unveiled as the new head coach of the Penrith Emus Rugby Club last week.
The local father’s appointment comes after a huge few weeks for the Emus, who were thrown a lifeline by the ACT & SNSW Rugby Union in October to join the prestigious John | Dent Cup in 2022.
Just months after they were axed from Sydney’s Shute Shield for the second time in three years, the Emus will now make fortnightly bus trips to Canberra to participate in the Brumbies’ feeder competition.
In his first interview as Emus coach, Patea said he’s not afraid of the challenge of being in charge of one of the most talked about franchises in Australian rugby.
“It is a big challenge, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done but I’ve got the support of the club and the management and that’s all I can ask for,” he told the Weekender.
“Players are slowing coming in… I think there are a few boys that have put their hand up to come back and help, which is good news for us.”
Emus pre-season training officially kicked off on Thursday evening at Nepean Rugby Park, with the club committed to fielding two grades teams, a Colts team and a women’s team next year.
Patea, who coached Penrith’s Colts side last season and has a strong affiliation with the club’s juniors, said his mission is to nurture the talent at his disposal and hopefully guide them to a berth with Super Rugby’s Brumbies.
“We just needed a good pathway for our juniors here at Penrith, we know we have some talented players coming through and we don’t want to see that talent go to waste,” he said.
“The parents of the boys were excited also because it’s a good pathway for them and hopefully we can make some of them Brumbies players some day.”
Before moving to Australia seven years ago, Patea grew up and resided in New Zealand playing and coaching in and around Auckland. When he retired from rugby, he moved across the ditch to western Sydney to spend more quality time with his kids.
“I decided to hang up the boots and go watch my kids play. We moved here because I wanted a better future for my kids and try and change my lifestyle from being a rugby coach to just being a dad,” Patea said.
“As it turned out, that didn’t quite go to plan and the kids needed a hand over at Penrith RSL and I took on an U12s team. I then got involved with the Emus and I’ve been here ever since.”
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for a decade.