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A host of NRL and NYC players joined local community heroes in being recognised for their tireless work throughout Australian communities at the NRL’s Community and Player Education Awards overnight.

In its ninth year, the awards honour grassroots clubs and members, together with NRL and NYC players excelling in their educational and community endeavours.

Brett Morris, David Shillington and James Tedesco were among representative stars selected in the 2015 NRL Academic Team of the Year, whilst National Youth Competition players were also recognised, with Bradie Smith from the Knights taking out the Apprentice of the Year award.

Winners of the 2015 NRL Community included the Ellenbrook Rabbitohs from Western Australia (Grassroots Club of the Year), David Graham from Palmerston, Northern Territory (Teacher of the Year), Chris Kirkland from Collarenbri, NSW (National Volunteer of the Year) and the St George Illawarra Dragons (NRL Club Community Program of the Year).

The Dragons were applauded for their initiative - SCORE Dragons – a community program run alongside the Disability Trust Illawarra and the Illawarra and South Coast Junior Rugby Leagues, which creates an all-inclusive environment for young people aged 12 – 23 living with various levels of disability.

NRL CEO Dave Smith said the awards were a highlight of the NRL’s Grand Final week celebrations and an opportunity to publically acknowledge some amazing achievements that largely go unnoticed.

“We have some incredible people who give their all for our game and it’s an honour to recognise so many of them in Grand Final week,” said Smith.

“From our elite players right through to the parents that help out with coaching and manning the canteens, our rugby league community is the strongest it’s ever been both on and off the field.”

See all the nominees for all the awards

National Volunteer of the Year, presented by Holden

Celebrates the efforts and outstanding community contributions of a volunteer who selflessly devotes their time to the growth, coordination and promotion of Rugby League.

Winner: Chris Kirkland, Collarenebri, Country Rugby League 

Chris has been recognised for his instrumental contribution and on-going dedication to Rugby League in Collarenebri, New South Wales. Chris is the President of the Collarenebri Bulldogs, captain-coach of the Bulldog’s first grade team and still manages to find time to coach the town’s two junior Rugby League sides.

When Chris initially came to Collarenebri, the Bulldog’s struggled to field a single senior side. Today, the Collarenebri Bulldog’s have thee sides, which are the pride and joy of the community.

His dedication to Rugby League extends beyond his own club; he provides guidance and training sessions for non-players to give them a healthy outlet to express themselves.

Grassroots Club of the Year, presented by Telstra

Presented to a club that has developed participation and enjoyment at all levels of Rugby League, has shown innovation in administration and has become an integral part of their community.

Winner: Ellenbrook Rabbitohs, Ellenbrook, Western Australia Rugby League 

Having only established in September 2014, the Ellenbrook Rabbitohs Rugby League Club has quickly set a benchmark to which other clubs in Western Australia aspire.

With a club motto of "Family, Fun and Community", the Ellenbrook Rabbitohs recorded 233 registered Junior Rugby League players in their inaugural 2015 season, establishing themselves as the second largest junior club in the state.

The club credits its rapid growth to its strong emphasis on community, having already spearheaded fundraising initiatives for the Starlight Foundation, the Royal Flying Doctors and Kiwi Christmas in The Park.

Over the past year the club has recruited more than 70 volunteers, from coaches and trainers to canteen and fundraising coordinators, all working towards the goal of supporting the Rugby League community. 

National Teacher of the Year, presented by ACCOR Hotels

Awarded in honour of the extraordinary contributions made by a teacher who has championed Rugby League within their school and community and integrated league related teaching material into their program.

Winner: David Graham, Palmerston, Northern Territory Rugby League

As a music teacher at MacKillop Catholic College in the Northern Territory, 27-year-old David has transformed his school’s community using Rugby League as a platform for positive change.

As the founder of the MacKillop Sharks Rugby League Club, David has streamlined school and club teams to work in partnership so that students have every opportunity possible to play the game. 

Through his promotion of the NRL’s ‘Beyond the Goalpost Program’, countless students have had the opportunity to referee at Gala Days and at Northern Territory club games on the weekend. Three MacKillop College students were selected to referee at the recent Under 11s Laurie Spina Shield event in Townsville as a part of this program.

NRL Club Community Program of the Year, presented by AAMI

Recognises a NRL Club that has positively impacted the broader community by delivering exceptional health, education and welfare programs across Australia and New Zealand.

Winner: St George Illawarra Dragons – SCORE Dragons 

The St. George Illawarra Dragons has teamed up with the Disability Trust Illawarra and the Illawarra and South Coast Junior Rugby Leagues to create an all-inclusive environment for children and youth aged 12-23 living with various levels of disability.

Called SCORE Dragons, the program provides these young people with the opportunity to play Rugby League regularly in a club environment. 

For the players in the SCORE Dragons, having an opportunity to connect with their peers on a weekly basis by playing a game they all share a passion for was a concept previously out of their reach. For parents of the players, they get the thrill of seeing their child playing in a mainstream sporting competition, sometimes for the first time.

SCORE Dragons aims to provide a supportive and inclusive environment for these adolescents and their families, and simultaneously raise awareness and change perceptions around disabilities.

The Dragons community and staff members engage with the children’s teams as coaches, training assistants and mentors. Primarily, the program aims to promote respect, tolerance and inclusiveness amongst the participants and the wider community surrounding the Dragons

NRL and National Youth Competition Academic Teams of the Year

Awarded to players who are a positive influence within their club and have demonstrated a long-term and genuine commitment to educational pursuits. The NRL and NYC Academic Teams of the Year acknowledges the significant role further education and workplace training plays across the game, and consists of players currently engaged in university studies, trades and other vocational training. 

NRL Academic Team of the Year: 




Brisbane Broncos

Todd Lowrie

Certificate IV in Project Management

Certificate IV in Frontline Management

Certificate IV in  Small Business

Certificate III in Property (Real Estate)

Canberra Raiders

David Shillington

Bachelor of Business – Canberra University

Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs

Brett Morris

Diploma of Business

Bachelor of Business (Finance)

Gold Coast Titans

Luke Douglas

Associate Degree in Surveying – University of Southern Queensland

Certificate IV in Career Development – Australian Trade College

Melbourne Storm

Dale Finucane

Bachelor of Health and Movement – Australian College of Physical Education

New Zealand Warriors

Siliva Havili

Bachelor of Health Science (Podiatry) – Auckland University of Technology

North Queensland Cowboys

Rory Kostjasyn

Certificate III in Sport & Recreation

Certificate III & IV in Fitness

Certificate IV in Frontline Management

Parramatta Eels

David Gower

Certificate IV in Career Development


St George Illawarra Dragons

George Rose

Graduate Certificate in Commerce – University of Sydney

St George Illawarra Dragons

Joel Thompson

Diploma of Community Services – TAFE Illawarra

Sydney Roosters

Sam Moa

Certificate III in Building & Construction

Certificate IV in Career Development

Wests Tigers

James Tedesco

Bachelor of Health and Exercise Science – Australian Catholic University

Wests Tigers

Keith Galloway

Certificate IV in Career Development  - Career Development Campus



NYC Academic Team of the Year:





Brisbane Broncos

Jack Tuttle

Bachelor of Business – Queensland University of Technology

Canberra Raiders

Lachlan Lewis

Bachelor of Engineering – Australian National University

Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs

Brandon Luamanu


Certificate III & IV in Fitness

Bachelor of Education - Australian College of Physical Education

Teacher’s Aide at Dorchester School within Reiby Juvenile Detention Centre

Cronulla Sharks

Bradley Deitz

Bachelor of Health and Exercise Science – Australian Catholic University

Gold Coast Titans

Hayden Schwass

Certificate III in Electrotechnology – Gold Coast Institute of TAFE

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles

Will Pearsall

Certificate III in Carpentry - Orimbah TAFE

Melbourne Storm

Shae Ah Fook

Bachelor of Applied Science (Property and Valuation) (Honours)

– RMIT University

Newcastle Knights

Bradie Smith

Certificate III in Carpentry

Established his own Building Company – Bradie Smith Carpentry

North Queensland Cowboys

Kieran Quabba

Bachelor of Education – James Cook University

Parramatta Eels

Tyrell Fuimaono

Bachelor of Business & Commerce – University of Western Sydney

Penrith Panthers

Oliver Clark

Bachelor of Physiotherapy – Australian Catholic University

St George Illawarra Dragons

Jacob Host

Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science – Australian Catholic University

New Zealand Warriors

Toafofoa Sipley

Bachelor of Education – Auckland University

NRL Indigenous Academic Excellence, presented by Harvey Norman

Recognises an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander NRL player who strives for excellence in both their playing career and in furthering their education, acting as a role model for other young Indigenous Australians.


Winners: George Rose and Joel Thompson, St George Illawarra Dragons 


George Rose, St George Illawarra Dragons 

As one of the game's most loved players, George has made significant moves off the football field as part of his dedication to education. 

Almost 10 years since he last studied, George is currently completing a Graduate Certificate of Commerce at the University of Sydney, with the goal of making the most out of his post-playing career. 

In addition to his academic achievements, George has spent considerable time supporting and volunteering in Indigenous communities, advocating for greater school and education engagement amongst children. 

These include the Walgett Public School George Rose Attendance Program and George Rose Scholarship, awarded to academic and sports students in Walgett. 

George is also an ambassador for Walgett Aboriginal Connection, Walgett Area Command Boxing and AIME’s Window to Fame program. 

George is an integral part of the Indigenous Player Leadership group which advises the NRL on Indigenous matters in the game and issues affecting indigenous communities, whilst also working towards making Rugby league clubs better for young players. 


Joel Thompson, St George Illawarra Dragons 

Joel has made it his personal goal to inspire others in the Indigenous community, drawing upon his own life experiences.

Since joining the St George Illawarra Dragons, Joel has made several significant steps in furthering his ambition to work in the juvenile justice system at the completion of his Rugby League career.

Complimenting his extensive community work, Joel attained a Certificate 4 in Drug and Alcohol, Mental Health and Community Services in 2014. 

Demonstrating his ability to positively impact Indigenous youth, Joel has been invited to be a guest speaker at AIME for two consecutive years and has used his community skills to serve as a mentor across the Dragons Indigenous Program, Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre Program and the 2015 NRL Dream Believe Achieve program. 

Throughout 2014 and 2015, as part of his studies, Joel enthusiastically accepted a part-time mentoring role with Mission Australia. In this role his objective was to motivate kids to see the value of education and encourage them to stay at school and look towards further education or a traineeship on the completion of Year 12.

It is this mix of practical and theoretical training that has earned Joel recognition as a role model for Indigenous academic excellence. 

Joel is a member of the NRL’s Indigenous Player Leadership group which works to address Indigenous issues across the Game and the broader community. 


NRL Pasifika Academic Excellence, presented by MGA insurance Brokers 

Recognises NRL players who have demonstrated extraordinary commitment to Rugby League, their education and Pasifika outreach.


Winners: Dene Halatau, Wests Tigers and Bronson Harrison, Dragons 


Dene Halatau, Wests Tigers 

New Zealand born Dene has completed an extensive line-up of qualifications, including a Diploma of Building and Construction, Diploma of Business Management and a Mental Health First Aid course.

Dene aspires to combine his knowledge of business management and construction to work in property development once he completes his playing career.

Dene has been an active representative for the Pasifika Players Advisory Group over the last four years and continues to demonstrate and encourage authentic cultural leadership amongst his fellow Pacific players. He has also been a part of the NRL Pasifika Advisory Group, representing players’ views and providing direction on important Pasifika issues and programs across the game.

An active advocate of education amongst the Rugby League community, Dene is the Wests Tigers ‘go to’ player for advice, help and support. Dene has presented at the NRL Rookie Camp and is a NRL Trade-Up Program mentor, which has seen him quickly become a role model for younger players.

Having won a premiership with the Wests Tigers in 2005 and played in over 200 NRL games, Dene has demonstrated to his peers that on-field excellence can complement, not hinder, the ability to excel off the field. 


Bronson Harrison, St George Illawarra Dragons

Auckland born Bronson has accrued an impressive list of qualifications, including a Diploma of Management in Business Services, a Certificate II in Security Operations, a Certification III and IV in Fitness and Certificate IV in Career Development.

A New Zealand test player and NRL veteran of 10 years, Bronson has used his studies to own and manage a number of businesses, including a security company and two Crust Pizza franchises until recently. 

He currently owns and runs Complete Strength and Performance Gymnasium at Concord, is a director and part owner of Leebryce Constructions and runs The Athlete Factory, a training and mentoring academy.

In addition to his entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to academia, Bronson has been an apprentice mentor with the Dragons for the past two years.

Bronson has been an integral part of the Pasifika players program since attending the first Pasifika Players Leadership Camp in 2012. He has particularly shown great initiative in empowering other Pacific players to step outside their comfort zone away from football. In doing this, he continues to push the limits for young Pacific entrepreneurs and set the bar even higher for the next generation. 


NYC Apprentice of the Year, presented by HIA

Awarded to a player who is achieving excellence in their completion of an apprenticeship, whilst simultaneously acting as a positive force as a player and member of the community. 


Winner: Bradie Smith, Newcastle Knights 

Showing commendable commitment to his studies, Bradie travels four hours from Jerry Plains to Newcastle each day to complete his apprenticeship and TAFE qualifications. 


A member of the NYC Newcastle Knights squad, and tipped to join the NRL squad later this year, Bradie has completed a Certificate III in Carpentry and is currently completing a Certificate IV in Clerk of Works. 


Aside from his NRL aspirations, Bradie owns and operates his own building company, Bradie Smith Carpentry, where he works five days a week in addition to attending TAFE.

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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