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Five Eels players, including NRL heroes Justin Poore and Johnny Mannah, are among the first in Rugby League to throw their support behind a pilot “flexible” apprenticeship program launched today that will revolutionise the pathways available for aspiring professional athletes to build a trade career post football.

The NRL and Rugby League Players Association have joined forces with the NSW Government to pilot the Beyond the Tryline program, which aims to increase the number of semi-professional athletes taking up apprenticeships as well as catering for those who make the transition to the full-time professional football ranks.

Under the NSW Department of Education and Communities’ State Training Services initiative, players moving into full-time training squads will be able to continue their apprenticeships part-time, with the flexibility of the program designed to increase the likelihood of take-up, retention and completion rates of apprenticeships.

NRL Education and Welfare Manager Paul Heptonstall said that if the pilot is successful, the Beyond the Tryline program will have a significant impact not only on Rugby League players, but for all professional athletes.

“With the current statistics showing that an average length of a Rugby League player’s career spans 43 games over three to four years only, it is becoming increasingly important that a player has a clear plan and access to develop a pathway after his football career has reached its full potential,” he said.

“At the NRL we pride ourselves on our National Youth Cup program and it’s ‘No Work, No Study, No Play’ policy, whereby all of our Under 20s players must be studying or employed for a minimum of 24 hours per week. 

“Until the introduction of the Beyond the Tryline program, the downside was that once these players made it to full-time football as NRL players many of them struggled to complete their apprenticeships.

“There are exceptions of course, and we have a number of players who have completed their trades and/or degrees or both.

“But now we can offer a genuine pathway and opportunity for our players to have a trade when their career is over, whether by choice or premature retirement through illness or injury.”

Eels NRL players Justin Poore (plumber) and Johnny Mannah (electrician), who have both been sidelined in recent years through illness and injury, and Peni Terepo (butcher) are very keen to prepare themselves for life after football and welcome the Beyond the Tryline program which will allow them to complete their trades.

In addition, Eels National Youth Cup players Trent Jennings (carpenter) and Jacob Gagan (landscaper) are equally thrilled about the opportunity offered by the program to continue working towards a trade when their football commitments change.

“I think it is a great initiative because while I am still playing I can complete my apprenticeship and enter the trade when I finish football,” said Mannah, whose club and employer have worked together and shown flexibility around his training commitments.

Mannah said he has been using his time on the job with his employer in a working environment as a trades assistant along with studying a Certificate III in Electrotechnology in order to obtain his trades certificate.

Former Bulldogs captain Andrew Ryan, who retired last year and now works full-time in the NRL Welfare and Education department, said he wishes the Beyond the Tryline program was in place during his 12-year NRL career.

"This is a landmark step and a tremendous opportunity for our players entering into the uncertain territory that is a Rugby League career,” Ryan said.

“This model is designed to suit the individual circumstances of each player with three main outcomes including increased uptake, retention rates and ultimately becoming qualified in their chosen trade.

“We are very fortunate that State Training Services have agreed to enter into a pilot program such as this with the NRL.

“This is largely due to their recognition of the NRL Welfare and Education team as a major support to clubs and the Welfare and Education Managers, who are qualified career advisors and offer assistance to all players including those in apprenticeships who have the good fortune to make the step up to first grade training."

Ryan continued his education throughout his career including a landscape gardening apprenticeship that he all but completed in the early stages of his career before football commitments took over.

"I started my landscape gardening apprenticeship at the Parramatta Eels when I first came down from Dubbo,” he said.

“At the time I was hopeful but unsure of how long I could last in Sydney playing rugby league and thought it was important to provide myself with an option to fall back on and I enjoyed the outdoor, physical work.

“When I did get an opportunity to progress into the NRL squad and train full-time the only option for my apprenticeship was to discontinue from that point. This program would have allowed me to finish the last portion and become qualified."

Ryan has since gone on to further studies and is currently completing a Bachelor of Sports Business which he started in 2010. 

The State Training Services Manager of Vocational Training Tribunal Apprenticeships and Traineeships Andrew Mavrakakis said he was delighted to be working with the NRL to trial the Beyond the Tryline program which he believes could have widespread benefits beyond Rugby League.

“We hope this pilot program will lead to increased retention and completion rates by Rugby League players as well as making it a more attractive option for younger players at school, as well as those in Toyota Cup and the NRL, to take up apprenticeships,” he said.

“This program, if successful, could be replicated in other sports, giving aspiring professional athletes a genuine opportunity for a career path post their sporting days.

“In a broader sense, increasing the number of people with apprenticeships in general, addresses the emerging skills needs of the economy, while a more flexible apprenticeship model provides great opportunities for employers to allow for unstable workloads and/or economic downturn.”

Players currently in line for the Beyond the Tryline program:


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