Bulldogs' Jackson humbled by big week
It's been a big week for in-form Canterbury back-rower Josh Jackson.
While he suffered the disappointment of his club side having their season ended by Penrith in an elimination final on Sunday, Monday night brought him a nod as the best NSW State of Origin player of 2016 when he was awarded the major prize at the Brad Fittler Medal night.
On Tuesday he was named in both the Prime Minister's XIII side to tour Papua New Guinea next week, as well as the Rugby League Players Association Academic Team of the Year for his determination to finish a Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science that he started before full-time football took over.
"I would obviously like to be playing this week but that wasn't to be, but for me individually I'm really excited to go over to Papua New Guinea next week and play," Jackson told NRL.com after the RLPA presentation at Rugby League Central.
"I've never done it before and there's a good crew of guys going over and I'm really looking forward to that."
The PM's XIII game is shaping up as a genuine selection trial for the post-season Kangaroos Four Nations tour to the UK with Jackson – named at lock to face the Kumuls but as his most effective on the right edge – short odds to make the trip in some capacity.
"I'm really looking forward to the game next week. I'll prepare for that and play that and see how I go with the Four Nations stuff but if that isn't to be, focus on the Bulldogs next year. We were very disappointing the way we went out this year so hopefully we can go further next year," Jackson added.
Of the huge honour to be named the Blues' best and fairest, Jackson was still buzzing the day after the awards. In a mark of both his professionalism and how much the Origin set-up means to him, Jackson didn't touch a drop of alcohol at his club's Mad Monday celebrations, which he left early to prepare for the Academic Team of the Year presentation and the RLPA awards night.
"The Brad Fittler Medal, it's a great honour and I'm very proud to receive it. It's something I'll never forget," Jackson said.
"To be voted by the players and the staff as one of the more consistent players over those three games, it means a lot to me and like I said it's something I'll never forget."
Jackson admitted it was tough to find time to continue completing units in his University of Newcastle studies given the pressures of not just club but rep football. Motivation for books can also take a hit when regular first grade football becomes routine.
But Jackson only has to look at clubmate Pat O'Hanlon and his fellow Academic Team of the Year member Ben Henry, both forced into early retirements this year by chronic injuries and both aged just 25, to realise how fleeting football can be and how important a post-playing qualification is.
"I started straight out of school and I probably got the majority of my course done before I started full time training which helped, but the last four or five years that I've been training full time I've just been chipping away at it," Jackson said.
"The club's been good and the uni's been good, they've been pretty flexible with assessment tasks that have been due which helps a lot.
"It really was [hard to stay focused once footy took over], obviously you want to focus on your footy rather than the study aspect of it so the first couple of years I played first grade I probably brushed it to the side a little bit and then just realised that it's pretty important to finish.
"Particularly when you see guys retiring that are 25, you never know when you might need something to help you after your career's finish.
"We had Patty O'Hanlon this year who had to retire, he's 25. Not only that but your average NRL career's not that long either so it doesn't make up the majority of your work that you're going to do for the rest of your life so you've got to make sure you're looking after yourself and your family when you're finished.
"I think all the guys here [in the academic team] are on the right path setting themselves up for the future so it's a good initiative."