From the coalface to the NRLW

HVTC’s Rachael Pearson has signed a three-year deal with the Parramatta Eels NRLW team, with the first game of the season kicking off on Sunday 23rd July at CommBank stadium against the Tigers.

When Rach isn’t kitted up in blue and yellow, you’ll find her sporting a bright yellow high vis uniform as part of her role at the Appin underground mine. Rach is a 4th year Engineering Mechanical Apprentice with HVTC while hosted to South32 for on-the-job training.

Growing up in the small regional town of Hay in NSW, Rach stumbled into a trade assistant role in a local engineering workshop where she would help the fitters out with tasks like welding, fabricating and dogging. These skills came in handy when Rach moved to Wollongong in 2019 to play league with the Helensburgh Tigers, giving her an advantage when she applied for the apprenticeship.

“I’ve always enjoyed being on the tools and thought it was time to step up and get myself an apprenticeship,” she said.

Footy is Rach’s other passion and in 2021 she was scouted and recruited by the Dragons NRLW team, making her professional debut in 2022. That same year, Rach was also selected in the NSW women’s State of Origin team.

“My goal was always to play league, but getting to play Origin in my debut year was surreal. It was a real ‘pinch myself’ moment. 2022 was a crazy year but I enjoyed every bit of it,” she said.

During the season, Rach would be up at the crack of dawn preparing for her day’s work as an underground coal mining apprentice, travelling more than 30 minutes each way to get to the Appin mine site north of Wollongong. At 4pm, which was tools down for everyone else, the 29-year-old would then make the 30-minute drive back to Wollongong for training 3 nights a week.

Joining the Eels means another hour each way of travel to get to training, but Rach wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It is tiring, and I have to be very organised, but I choose to do it because I enjoy it,” she said.

It’s this commitment to both professions that led to Rach becoming an NRLW Ambassador in 2022 to promote apprenticeship careers to students and hopefully inspire future generations of NRLW players.

NRL Wellbeing and Engagement Programs Manager, Tony McFadyen said the NRL-VET Pathways Program is a federally-funded initiative that targets schools during key decision-making times when students are thinking about their future career and training options.

“The sweet spot for students is between years 10, 11 and 12, but we also target parents,” Mr McFadyen said.

“There are more opportunities with vocational education and training (VET) in High Schools now and VET career paths are certainly more recognised than they have been before. Our goal is to get into schools and use stories of people who have gone through it all to dispel myths about VET and highlight the different career opportunities available.

“Rach’s story is a great example of how male dominated industries are becoming more accessible to women.”

As an ambassador, Rach is hoping to be a role model for young kids, especially in regional communities, wanting play footy or do a trade.

“I love being able to share my story,” she said.

“I hope the girls and boys see me on TV playing footy and realise that they too can do what I’ve done.”

With less than 7 months to go until she completes her apprenticeship, Rach is looking forward to finishing her trade and investing more time into her footy.

“It would be great to get a job with South32 and I have been thinking of furthering my studies by doing a Cert IV in Engineering Mechanical. Other than that, I’m just happy taking it day by day and see where it all takes me.”

Rachael Pearson on left playing rugby league for the NRLW and on right in her high vis mining uniform