NRL forwards pursue university degrees
They are two of the toughest second-row forwards in the NRL, and they are also two of 208 NRL players who are enrolled in university this year.
Gold Coast's Ryan James is completing a Bachelor of Business at Griffith University, majoring in Sports Management and Marketing, while Newcastle Knights back-rower Robbie Rochow is enrolled in a Bachelor of Civil Engineering at Newcastle University.
Rochow's engineering course makes him one of the 26 rugby league players in some form of engineering, design and construction pathway.
By far the most common bracket is social science, business and law with 78 current undergraduates, including Titans forward James.
Science and life science has 63 students from rugby league, education 30, health and welfare 26, humanities and arts 12 and environment and agriculture has two.
"When I finished school, I wanted to use what I was good at – which was maths and physics-based courses – so I wanted do to engineering," Rochow said.
"With civil, it's a pretty broad degree and there are a lot of different opportunities in a lot of different areas."
There are 208 contracted NRL players enrolled at university in Australia or New Zealand in a degree program. Of those, around 80 (around one fifth of the senior NRL playing group) are over the age of 20, and 128 are NYC players, representing around a quarter of the NYC.
The NRL's 2014 Annual Report shows that there has been an increase in total spend on education and welfare services for clubs and players.
Each NRL club received dedicated funding to support career coaches for players and for education grants as part of player contracts. In addition, the NRL and RLPA have provided 514 individual grants to players, totalling $630,000, according to the report.
Rochow had settled on his course of study before making the transition to professional rugby league, and has almost two years of full-time study to complete his degree. He started the degree at Melbourne's Swinburne University of Technology while a Storm player, and has since transferred to the University of Newcastle.
According to Rochow, the part-time study takes up about 10 hours a week, made up of two subjects this semester. Balancing study and footy is "one of the hardest things to deal with" because university degrees are hardly designed to revolve around an NRL player's hectic and inconsistent schedule.
"It's a matter of having to learn a lot of the content yourself so I get private tutors to help me and get help from other classmates," he said.
Rochow added that while it can be frustrating not to be able to dedicate as much time to study as some other students, knowing how much work and dedication he has to put in makes completing subjects all the more satisfying.
"Once I do get to the end of a subject and knowing that I have learned something which was extremely difficult at the start, there is a fair bit of satisfaction and pride for sure, which is probably the most enjoyment I get out of it," he said.
"I would love to work with a company within the Hunter Valley so once I have a bit more time on my hands outside of footy I'll try to get some experience and then I guess I'll narrow down what I really want to do."
Up on the Gold Coast, James commenced his course in 2009 when he was still playing Under 20s and has so far completed 20 of 24 subjects. The degree selection was partly prompted by his footballing passion.
"The sports management part was making it easy to relate back to footy and the marketing part is a big part of the game at the moment so I thought I'd go with that as a double major," James said.
"There are many realms that my degree can lead into. A business degree covers a whole variety of places and sports management and marketing are two things that I could possibly do after footy.
"Building a profile through footy and then using the degree as well afterwards, I wanted to keep my options open and do a degree that held my interest while I was playing footy."
An unexpected benefit of his study was that it gave him something to keep his mind occupied when an unfortunate knee injury ruined his second NRL season, and again last year as he battled a shoulder problem.
James said recognition from the NRL has also been a boost for his studies.
"In 2012 I was named in the Academic Team of the Year and got an iPad, so things like that obviously helps rather than having to cart around a laptop all day, so the NRL has helped us a fair bit," he said.
"The first couple of years of my degree the Titans funded it but now the NRL funds some of it so it all helps."