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Paul Gallen, Ben Creagh, Chris Lawrence, Sam Perrett, Preston Campbell, Andrew Ryan, Robbie Farah and Jason King are among the NRL stars to earn selection in a new representative side that is changing the face of rugby league – the inaugural NRL-RLPA Academic Team of the Year.

With the support of more than $4.6 million in education grants each year from the NRL and clubs, 80 per cent of NRL players have completed or are currently engaged in further education or workplace training, ranging from university studies in law, commerce, pharmacy and physiotherapy to small business owners, trades and other vocational education training. Across the game:

•    62 NRL players (14%) are enrolled or have completed a university degree; a further 98 Toyota Cup players (19%) are enrolled in a university degree;

•    250 NRL players (55%) are enrolled or have completed a Vocational Education Training (Certificate II to Diploma); another 120 Toyota Cup players (22%) are also enrolled or have completed a VET program;

•    52 NRL players (11%) have completed at least two years of a trade apprenticeship; while 59 Toyota Cup players (13%) are currently working as an apprentice;

•    The remaining 20% of NRL players have either participated in short courses or work experience or have undergone a skills assessment to determine career pathways outside of rugby league.

In addition, the No Work, No Study, No Play policy implemented in the Toyota Cup ensures all Under-20 players are actively engaged in the development of a post-rugby league career.

To celebrate the significant role further education and workplace training plays across the game, NRL Chief Executive David Gallop, and NRL-RLPA Welfare and Education Committee Chairman Mark Coyne, today presented the inaugural NRL Academic Team of the Year members with iPads in a ceremony at the Sydney Football Stadium.

The 17-man team includes players from 12 clubs who between them boast 2,487 first grade games, 63 Test matches and 41 State of Origins and who represent the cross-section of studies and workplace training being undertaken across the NRL.

The team is:

1.    William Zillman (Gold Coast Titans): Bachelor of Business (Real Estate and Property Services) at Southern Cross University, working with Wealthfarm financial planners, Certificate II in Sport and Recreation, Certificate III in Fitness, NRL education ambassador.

2.    James McManus (Newcastle Knights):  Has started Bachelor of Human Movement and is now studying an Advanced Diploma of Property Services – Valuation, NRL education ambassador, Knights education mentor, representative of ‘Ambassadors for Young Australians’ program.

3.    Jerome Ropati (Warriors): Graduate Diploma in Business, Auckland University of Technology, NRL education ambassador, NZ Universities sportsman of the year, now studying human anatomy and physiology in the lead-up to starting Physiotherapy and Sport and Recreation Degree.

4.    Chris Lawrence (Wests Tigers): Studying Bachelor of Commerce through Open Universities, NRL education ambassador, has started his own sports company, Live Work Play, that conducts sports programs in Western Sydney. He also runs school and community lifestyle programs and is qualified to teach Certificate IV qualifications in fitness.

5.    Sam Perrett (Sydney Roosters): Completed Certificate III in Carpentry, currently completing Certificate IV in Building and Construction and Diploma of Management, NRL education ambassador. Has also completed short courses in wealth creation, investment strategies and real estate.

6.    Preston Campbell (Gold Coast Titans): Certificate III and IV in Youth Work, 2008 Ken Stephen Medal winner, DEEWR Lean Earn Legend! education ambassador, creator of the NRL All Stars concept, NAIDOC Sportsperson of the Year, acting club captain.

7.    Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers): Bachelor of Commerce, Sydney University, restaurant owner, NRL education ambassador, founder of ‘Mates on a Mission’ charity, club captain.

8.    Corey Payne (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs): Bachelor of Commerce (accounting and commercial law majors), University of Sydney, studying Masters of Commerce (Finance), Graduate of Australian Institute of Company Directors management, recipient of 2011 University of Sydney Young Alumni achievement award, Future Direction Network Director, NRL education ambassador.

9.    Matt Ballin (Manly Sea Eagles): Studying Bachelor of Education at ACPE, qualified personal trainer and has started his own company MBF (Matt Ballin Fitness), NRL education ambassador.

10.     Jason King (Manly Sea Eagles): Studying Bachelor of Business/Law at Macquarie University, NRL education ambassador, club co-captain.

11.     Ben Creagh (St George Illawarra Dragons): Studying Bachelor of Commerce at Wollongong University, NRL education ambassador.

12.     Paul Gallen (Cronulla Sharks): Qualified plumber, Certificate IV in Financial Planning, Certificate of Registration in Real Estate, Diploma of Management, former part-owner of Mortgage Choice franchise, club captain.

13.     Andrew Ryan (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs): Studying Bachelor of Sports Business at ACPE, qualified landscaper and business owner, club captain, NRL education ambassador and newly appointed NRL Education and Welfare Officer.

14.     Bryan Norrie (Melbourne Storm): Certificate III in Hospitality, in Fitness and in Sport and Recreation, completing electrician apprenticeship, NRL education ambassador.

15.     Ashley Graham (North Queensland Cowboys): Certificate III in Sports Administration, studying Bachelor of Sports and Exercise Science at James Cook University, made a member of university’s Golden Key Society for being in top 15% of students, NRL and QLD Govt education and physical activity ambassador.

16.     Michael Weyman (St George Illawarra Dragons): Diploma in Business, studying Certificate IV in Civil Construction, NRL Education  Ambassador.

17.     Nick Kenny (Brisbane Broncos): Bachelor of Physiotherapy, Broncos Toyota Cup physio, NRL education ambassador, Certificate IV in Small Business, presently studying occupational health and safety course.

“These players represent what can be achieved both on and off the field and what opportunities are available through Rugby League to build careers,” Mr Gallop said.

“Each of them will tell you that the studies and training they have pursued has helped make them better footballers and better people and that’s an important lesson for any aspiring NRL players to take on board.

“I also want to acknowledge the work of Mark Coyne and his committee, Paul Heptonstall, Nigel Vagana, Jane Lowder and Tony McFadyen and all the club welfare and education officers.

“The programs and opportunities they have developed and the way the players have embraced them has changed the face of the game.”

As part of the game’s education strategy, the NRL has established an Education Ambassador Program where player representatives from each club provide mentoring and support for others to engage in education and workplace training.

Chairman of the NRL-RPLA Education and Welfare Committee, former international, Maroons and Dragons star Mark Coyne, said the number of players engaged in further education and workplace training would continue to multiply in the years to come.

“There has been a fundamental shift in the way players prepare for life after footy. Once the players who were studying and working used to be the exceptions, now it is the ones who are not that are in the minority,” he said.

“The players, to their credit, have seized the opportunities that Rugby League provides  and significantly, a number are now working as mentors to ensure other players do the same.

“Through the work of the NRL-RLPA Education and Welfare Committee, the NRL and clubs, the game is investing millions of dollars each year to provide players with the opportunity to build careers outside of football.

“Our mantra is that players will become better men for having played Rugby League and the ongoing success of the education and welfare strategy is realising that aim.”  

NSW and Sharks captain Paul Gallen attributed much of his on-field success to the ‘life balance’ that career development has provided for him off the field.

“I know how much having a pursuit outside of footy has helped me improve as a player,” he said.

“I made sure from early on that I had a trade to fall back on but now through the funding the game has provided I have also been able to go out and build a new set of business skills.

“I want to play as long as I can but it is great knowing that I have career options there for me when I do decide to finish playing.”

Lawrence added: “I don’t just see myself as a footballer. I love it and it’s my job, but it is just part of who I am and what I want to do with my life.

“I have established a business that I enjoy and that I am proud of and having that interest away from the field has also helped make me a better player because it provides you with a better perspective on life.”