Dally M medallist Tom Trbojevic's stunning on-field form this season has been matched only by his off-field achievements, with the Manly superstar also named the 2021 NRL Academic Player of the Year.
It is the first time that the same player has won both awards and Trbojevic believes his studies contributed to his brilliant performances for the Sea Eagles and NSW State of Origin team.
The 24-year-old, who is completing a Bachelor of Applied Finance with a Bachelor of Economics degree at Macquarie University, was awarded the Dally M Medal in Brisbane on Monday night and just days later has been announced as the male Academic Player of the Year
Brisbane Broncos and Jillaroos playmaker Tarryn Aiken, who is currently completing her Honours in Psychology at Griffith University, was named the female Academic Player of the Year.
Trbojevic and Aiken were among the players recognised by the NRL and RLPA with selections in the 2021 Academic Team of the Year, which includes male and female stars studying a variety of courses, including business, physiotherapy, construction, education, psychology, exercise science and finance.
"I want to say how honoured I am to make the Academic Team of the Year," Trbojevic said. "It is an awesome achievement and something I am very proud of.
"I have always studied since my under-20s days. It was kind of a thing that we had to do, and I have always continued to do it. Mum has been a big push in that, and I am almost done now so I am very thankful to her for keeping me doing it.
"It really sets me up for life after football so hopefully when my footy career is all done, I can get a job somewhere and it will make that transition all the more easier."
Aiken said: "It is a huge honour, especially seeing the off-field success of the former players who have been named in this team".
Trbojevic, who last year received Macquarie University's Chancellors Award and was named Male Athlete of the Year, has also been gaining experience by working for iFin Capital, a Sydney-based brokerage firm.
"I have really enjoyed learning about businesses and the real-life job, and stuff like that," he said. "It is something that has been benefitting me with my uni as well."
The star fullback was among numerous NRL players who continued their studies after the competition was relocated to Queensland mid-season, including Penrith forward Mitch Kenny, who will miss Sunday night's grand final after suffering an ankle injury two weeks ago against Parramatta.
Kenny is studying a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Education at UTS and is interested in becoming a teacher.
"I didn't always think I was going to be a first-grade footballer, I didn't think that was a given for me and I had a passion in teaching," Kenny said. "I started that university degree straight away and thankfully football worked out as well.
"I feel like it has made me more rounded, it is a pretty welcome distraction from the negative sides of football and it has also given me a lot of purpose outside my football career as well."
2021 Dally M Medal winner - Tom Trbojevic
NRL wellbeing & education manager Paul Heptonstall said it was a great credit to players who had continued their studies with the added challenge of relocating this season.
"The NRL has always valued the importance of education and work experience outside of football commitments for players, and time has proven it has a positive impact on their lives as a whole," Heptonstall said.
"We've always supported players engaged in activities outside of rugby league as it prepares them for post-football, but we know it helps their football as well. Being engaged in something off the field allows them to have a fresh perspective on footy.
"Guys like Tom Trbojevic, James Tedesco and Luke Keary who are studying or have finished degrees prove many very good players are also balanced people."
Of 542 contracted NRL players, 108 have completed or are completing higher education degrees including their Masters.
More than 50 are finished or engaged in apprenticeships while 179 are currently working on VET qualifications. Health and sport-related disciplines are the most studied, followed by business.
RLPA player operations manager Jamie Buhrer said that Trbojevic's on and off-field achievements were a great example for all NRL players.
"Tom continues to prove that you can balance career and educational development with an elite rugby league career, and that doing so can enhance your rugby league performance," Buhrer said. "Tom is testament to the fact that players can achieve tremendous success on and off the field.
"We congratulate the academic achievements of the 2021 Academic Team of the Year, who deserve recognition for their steadfast commitment to their studies during another season of challenge and significant disruption.
"Despite these challenges, this group has shown determination to remain engaged in career development and are each worthy of their place in this Academic Team worth celebrating."
2021 Academic Team of the Year
- Tom Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles): Completing a Bachelor of Applied Finance with Bachelor of Economics. (Macquarie University)
- Joe Stimson (Canterbury Bulldogs): Completing a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Education. (Southern Cross University)
- Kyle Flanagan (Canterbury Bulldogs): Completing a Bachelor of Construction Management. (Western Sydney University)
- Patrick Carrigan (Brisbane Broncos): Completing a Bachelor of Physiotherapy - 3rd year. (University of Queensland)
- Mitch Rein (Gold Coast Titans): Completing a Bachelor of Business. (Griffith University)
- Aiden Tolman (Cronulla Sharks) Completing a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Education. (Southern Cross University)
- Elliott Whitehead (Canberra Raiders): Completing a Certificate IV Career Development, completed a Certificate IV Elite Athlete Wellbeing Management. (Career Development Centre)
- Shaun Lane (Parramatta Eels): Completing a Graduate Diploma of Psychology, completed a Bachelor of Health Science. (Sydney University)
- Mitch Kenny (Penrith Panthers): Completing a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Education. (University of Technology, Sydney)
- Lindsay Collins (Sydney Roosters): Completing a Bachelor of Business (Property Economics)/Certificate III in Carpentry. (Western Sydney University)
- Drew Hutchison (Sydney Roosters): Completing a Bachelor of Education (Primary), completed Cert IV in Small Business. (University of New England)
- Brydie Parker (Sydney Roosters): Completing a Bachelor of Exercise Science - Physiotherapy. (Australian Catholic University)
- Tarryn Aiken (Brisbane Broncos): Completing Honours, completed Bachelor of Psychology. (Griffith University)