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Rugby League today unveiled the extent of its education revolution with Federal Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, Senator the Hon Chris Evans, unveiling an NRL-RLPA Academic Team of the Year showcasing studies in pharmacy, theology, commerce, education and small business.

Matt Scott (Cowboys), Ashley Harrison (Titans), David Simmons (Panthers), John Morris (Sharks), Micheal Luck (Warriors) and Luke Burt (Eels) are among the new faces to earn selection in the second ever NRL-RLPA Academic Team of the Year, which features players from 14 clubs who between them have played 2,667 NRL matches, 30 Tests and 26 State of Origins.

Highlighting the opportunities the NRL-RLPA education and welfare programs have funded with the support of NRL Clubs to the tune of $2.4 million in 2012:

    84 per cent of NRL players have completed or are currently engaged in further education or workplace training;

    60 per cent of NRL and Toyota Cup players currently attending university are the first in their families to do so;

    68 NRL players (15%) are enrolled or have completed a University Degree; a further 109 Toyota Cup players (23%) are enrolled in a University Degree;

    264 NRL players (58%) are enrolled or have completed a Vocational Education Training (Certificate II to Diploma); another 146 Toyota Cup players (29%) are also enrolled or have completed a VET program;

    52 NRL players (11%) have completed at least two years of a trade apprenticeship; while 68 per cent Toyota Cup players (15%) are currently working as an apprentice;

    More than 345 education grants have been provided by the NRL-RLPA for NRL and Toyota Cup players in 2012;

    25 per cent of Indigenous players in the Toyota Cup are attending university;

    This year’s inaugural Under 20s State of Origin teams included eight players studying at university, five doing apprenticeships and another 16 players involved in studies ranging from Certificate 2 to Diploma level.

    17 members of the Brisbane Broncos’ Toyota Cup squad are studying at university.

“This is a team that represents the future of our athletes and the game,” Interim NRL Chief Executive, Mr Shane Mattiske, said today.

“These players demonstrate that a career in Rugby League is not a choice between sport and education.

“Increasingly, we are seeing Rugby League open up new career and education opportunities that may otherwise not have been available to our players.

“It certainly underlines the significant role the players, NRL clubs, the RLPA and NRL have played in making education and workplace training an important part of Rugby League’s culture.”

Federal Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, Senator the Hon Chris Evans, said:  “The Australian Government is working hard to build a skilled and productive workforce and partnering with the NRL is one way we are encouraging more Australians to maximise their off-field performance through education and training.

“We are investing strongly in skills, training and higher education because we know it helps drive productivity and change people's lives.

“Just like being on a winning rugby league team, the rewards for scoring a new skill are access to better jobs, a higher pay packet and a more rewarding working life.”

Underlining the success of the game’s education strategy in 2012 is the Graduates of League pilot program, a joint initiative of the Athletes Education Foundation, University of Wollongong, NRL-RLPA and St George Illawarra Dragons.

Led by two-time Academic Team of the Year member and NSW Origin star Ben Creagh, Dr Sam Jebeile, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Commerce at the University of Wollongong, Dragons Education and Welfare Manager Scott Stewart and the NRL-RLPA, the program aims to increase university entry, retention and completion rates of elite athletes.

As part of the program, a player receives one-on-one tuition for at least one hour per week, which is funded by the NRL Club and NRL-RLPA.

In a stunning show of its success, the ‘failure to complete’ rate dropped from 39% to just 6% with the program now set to be rolled out across the game with the South Sydney Rabbitohs the next club to begin with the support of the University of Sydney.

“The Graduates of League program provides a powerful support network to ensure players reach their academic goals while still playing and training full-time,” Creagh said.

“We have the help of the club, the NRL, the University of Wollongong and some of their top students for one-on-one tutoring and the results speak for themselves.

“The one thing that really stands out for me now is that you go to training and the majority of boys are enrolled in some form of further education.

“We all support each other with our studies and that’s a really significant culture shift from when I first started out in the game and the idea of talking about your uni studies at footy training was unheard of.”

ARL Commissioner and Executive Director of the Stronger Smarter Institute, Dr Chris Sarra, University of Sydney Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) Professor Shane Houston, Professor Paul Wellings CBE, Vice-Chancellor, University of Wollongong, the Chief Executive of the Australian College of Physical Education, Mr Warren Jacobson, Chairman of the NRL-RPLA Education and Welfare Committee Mark Coyne and RLPA Chief Executive Mr David Garnsey were among the special guests and academic leaders at Rugby League Central today for the unveiling of the team, who were each presented with iPads.

The 2012 NRL-RPLA Academic Team of the Year is:

    Luke Burt (Parramatta Eels): Studying Bachelor of Health and Movement at ACPE and is an NRL Education Ambassador.

    David Simmons (Penrith Panthers):  Studying Bachelor of Theology at Moore College.

    Ashley Graham (North Qld Cowboys): Studying Bachelor of Sports and Exercise Science at James Cook University. Ashley was also selected in the team last year.

    Chris Lawrence (Wests Tigers): Studying Bachelor of Commerce at Curtin University. Chris is also a Director of ‘Live Play Work’, a company he formed that conducts sports and physical education programs in Sydney. He also runs school and community lifestyle programs and is a director of Groundwork Health, an online training and nutritional company.

    Dale Copley (Brisbane Broncos): Studying Bachelor of Pharmacy at University of Queensland.

    Ashley Harrison (Gold Coast Titans): Studying Diploma of Financial Planning and Small Business.

    John Morris (Cronulla Sharks): Completed Bachelor of Education/PDHPE at Newcastle University and is currently studying a Masters of Coaching at Sydney University. He is also an NRL Education Ambassador and has completed a Certificate IV in Personal Training and an Advanced Diploma of Management.

    Scott Geddes (South Sydney Rabbitohs): Completed a Certificate IV in Small Business and Certificates III and IV in personal fitness. Scott is a personal training company business owner and an NRL Education Ambassador.

    Matt Ballin (Manly Sea Eagles): Studying Bachelor of Education (Health and Movement) at ACPE, holds a Certificate IV in personal training and has started his own fitness company MBF (Matt Ballin Fitness). Matt is also an NRL Education Ambassador and was selected in the team last year.

    Matt Scott (North Qld Cowboys): Studying Bachelor of Business via Open Universities Australia and is an NRL Education Ambassador.

    Ben Creagh (St George Illawarra Dragons): Studying Bachelor of Commerce at University of Wollongong University. Ben is also an NRL Education Ambassador and has helped implement the ‘Graduates of League’ program. Ben was also selected in the team last year.

    Corey Payne (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs): Studying Masters of Commerce (Finance and Entrepreneurship) at the University of Sydney and holds a Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting and Commercial Law), also from the University of Sydney. Corey was awarded the Young Alumni Achievement Award in 2011 and is also a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He is the Chair and Founder of the Future Direction Network, a Not for Profit organisation that helps disadvantaged children go to university. He received the 2011 NRL-RLPA Education and Welfare Award and is an NRL Education Ambassador. Corey was selected in the team last year.

    Micheal Luck (Warriors): Studying Masters of Business at Auckland University of Technology and is an NRL Education Ambassador.\

    Ryan James (Gold Coast Titans): Studying Bachelor of Business at Griffith University.

    Anthony Quinn (Melbourne Storm): Studying Certificate IV in Building and Construction and is in his fourth year of an electrical apprenticeship.

    Joel Reddy (Wests Tigers): Studying Bachelor of Health and Exercise Science at the University of NSW.

    Bronson Harrison (Canberra Raiders): Completed Certificates III and IV in Fitness and a Certificate II in Security.  He is a director/owner of three companies (wholesale bakery/bricklaying/Leader Security) and is an NRL Education Ambassador.

For the first time, NRL Match Officials have also been recognised in the Academic Team of the Year with Tony Archer honoured for his work in studying for a Bachelor of Commerce (Sport Management) from Curtin University in Western Australia.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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