A record number of elite rugby league players will juggle study books and football boots this week as they return to or begin university ahead of the 2014 NRL Telstra Premiership and Holden Cup seasons kicking off on Thursday.
Among the 220 enrolled in university, 75 are NRL players, almost three times the number enrolled in 2008 (28). Similarly, Holden Cup player enrolments at university have more than tripled from 40 in 2008 to 145 this year.
In addition a record 16 academic institutions are now on board in the NRL’s Graduates of League program, which started in 2012 with just one, the University of Wollongong.
Players have enrolled in a range of masters, degree and certificate courses including law, biomedical science, criminology, engineering, commerce, economics, theology, policing, architecture, philosophy, physiotherapy, physics, business and exercise science, nursing and environmental science.
The Graduates of League program includes academic institutions including Auckland, Brisbane, Canberra, Gold Coast, Melbourne, Newcastle, Sydney, Townsville and Wollongong .
‘The Graduates of League program is unique in Australian sport,’ said NRL senior welfare and education manager Mr Paul Heptonstall. ‘It aims to help players successfully complete their studies by providing support through mentoring and academic tuition at the participating academic institutions.
‘The NRL invests more than $3 million each year into the game’s education and welfare program to ensure players leave the game better men for having been a part of rugby league.
‘The Graduates of League program is an important element of that investment, which has experienced overwhelming success in a short space of time with a significant increase in academic performance.
‘At the end of last season we had five academic institutions signed on to the program; and now, with the 2014 season about to kick off, we have 16 across Australia and in New Zealand, which can only further enhance the academic outcomes and experiences of our players as they prepare for careers post-football.’
NRL Graduates of League program manager Dr Sam Jebeile was instrumental in starting the inaugural program at University of Wollongong in 2012.
‘This is a program founded upon a strong theoretical platform and utilises the power of peer tuition in achieving some outstanding academic outcomes,’ he said.
Academic Institutions in the NRL Graduates of League Program
Auckland – Auckland University of Technology and the University of Auckland
Brisbane – Australian Catholic University and the Queensland University of Technology
Canberra – Australian National University and the University of Canberra
Gold Coast – Griffith University
Melbourne – Australian Catholic University
Newcastle –University of Newcastle
Sydney – Australian College of Physical Education, the Australian Catholic University, the University of New South Wales, the University of Technology Sydney and the University of Western Sydney
Townsville – James Cook University
Wollongong –University of Wollongong