NRL.com’s Andrew Bryan caught up with former Bulldogs captain and NRL Players Welfare & Education Officer, Andrew Ryan, to find out how he is adjusting to life away from football and what his new role at Rugby League Central entails.
What do you do in your role as NRL Players Welfare and Education Officer?
The majority of my role is to look after the country under 20s guys who have relocated from their homes to NRL clubs, just to check how they are going and hopefully help them with their courses. A lot of the guys are going to university which is great.
I also do a fair bit with the retired guys to promote what they are doing, whether it is their business or get them in contact with people that can help them once their footy finishes up.
Is that something you really relate to?
Yeah, definitely. I moved down as an 18-year-old. I’d been to Sydney a few times, but hadn’t stayed for long periods, so I’ve been through that system and I understand what the young kids are going through.
I was pretty lucky. I moved in with Kevin Wise. He actually still works in the health and welfare department of Parramatta, so I guess it has moved full circle now. I am now helping young players make the adjustment and helping mentor them.
What is the most difficult thing about moving from the country to an NRL club?
I think there are a lot of things that are difficult. You come straight out of school and move away from home. You are starting a job and starting uni. I think the biggest thing though is adjusting to training and the intensity of that training.
You go from probably training once or twice a week back in your club team in Dubbo and a couple of weights sessions here or there, and some of the guys didn’t even do weights. When you come into the NRL, you are doing four weight sessions a week, running five nights a week and then playing on the weekend. It is a massive challenge.
What is the most challenging thing about your role?
It is different not playing - not being there day to day and being around that environment. One of the most challenging things in my role is to just to be around all the clubs. I’ve had the focus the last nine or 10 years at the Bulldogs and before that obviously Parramatta. So getting to know the players at the other clubs behind the scenes, and just getting out there and spreading the word about what we do.
Previously the department has been pretty humble and didn’t like boasting about the good stories that we are doing. There are so many good things going on in rugby league away from the field as well as on it. We are just trying to get some of those positive stories out there and let people know the great work our players past and present are doing.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Even at this early stage, seeing some of these young guys who have come from these country areas. They have gotten through pre-season and they haven’t just packed up and gone home. They are playing in the under 20s competition already. Just to see them getting into uni and to feel comfortable in the scenario – it is very rewarding.
The 'no work, no study, no play' in the Toyota Cup has been great for us. Now we are seeing all these guys in the full-time squads and they are all studying. It is a reflection of how the game is going. I think it has changed a lot in the last six or seven years.
And what about the former players – how are they doing?
Seeing the retiring blokes doing well away from footy is awesome. A guy like Chris Walker has his own excavation business on the Gold Coast. He is picking up heaps of work and has a lot going on. It is good to see a guy in a totally different field doing well.
What is your main objective?
Our biggest area we need to focus on is the guys in the middle of their rugby league careers. These guys are not in the twilight of their careers - they are playing footy and they are loving it. We just need to make sure they understand that everything goes really quickly. They need to have something to fall back on just in case there is injury or poor form. It is so important that they have something behind them.
Is that something talked about in the locker room – has there been a cultural change in your time in rugby league?
Players in the locker room now do talk about what they are doing away from footy, and that has definitely changed from probably even when I first started. More and more around the clubs these days, there are so many more guys doing things away from the field and I think it is a great thing for rugby league.
What did you do away from the field while you were still playing?
Early on I did a landscaping course. I did some marketing as well. Being an education ambassador I had been running programs with the junior guys.
I’ve always said getting a balance in life and having something away from rugby league is great. It gives you something else to think about and helps your performance on the field.