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Get to know: The 2020 Academic Team of the Year

The 2020 NRL-RLPA Wellbeing and Education Academic Team of the Year has been named, with Anthony Don (Male Academic Player of the Year) and Kirra Dibb (Female Academic Player of the Year) taking out the top honours.

The Team of the Year is made up of 13 players who have excelled in the career development space over the past 12 months.

Below is an insight into each player’s journey, with each player utilising the support available through the investment in the NRL-RLPA Wellbeing and Education program.

Anthony Don

Award: Male Academic Player of the Year

Club: Gold Coast Titans

Study: Completed a Masters of Business Administration (2020)  & Completed a Bachelor of Education (2011) – University of New England

What he said: “Focussing on your own development is a good way to keep your mind off footy, particularly when things might not be going so well on the field. It’s important to have something else to focus on away from rugby league that you can work on and achieve results in.”

CLICK HERE TO READ ANTHONY’S FULL CAREER DEVELOPMENT Q&A

Kirra Dibb

Award: Female Academic Player of the Year

Club: Australian Jillaroos and New Zealand Warriors

Study: Currently completing a Bachelor of Applied Science – Exercise Physiology – University of Sydney.

What she said: “Better people make better players, so if you’ve got that educational pathway and background, and somewhere you can take your thoughts elsewhere, you are going to feel more fresh on the field and be ready on game day…. But also, after all those game days are completed and your career has taken its end, you’ve still got that option and you’ve still got a mind full of ideas to change the world elsewhere.”


Rhys Kennedy

Award: Academic Team of the Year

Club: Brisbane Broncos

Study: Completed Bachelor of Exercise Science and Cert III in fitness – University of Wollongong

What he said: “The ups and downs of Rugby League have taught me how to deal with adversity in life including being able to handle the study load at university. My studies have also been related to my sport, so I have been able to gain plenty of experience through observing and learning from Sports Science coaches.”

CLICK HERE TO READ RHYS’ FULL CAREER DEVELOPMENT Q&A


Connor Tracey

Award: Academic Team of the Year

Club: Cronulla Sharks

Study: Completed a Bachelor of Accounting and Financial Services. Currently completing a Post Grad Cert in -Chartered Financial Analyst – CFA Institute.

What he said: “I definitely want to work in the finance industry. At the moment my goal is to work in Investment Banking (which is why I am studying the CFA). It is vital to ensure young players have access to degrees and courses that allow them to transition successfully post-NRL. Our career after footy will be much longer than our playing career.”

CLICK HERE TO READ CONNOR’S FULL CAREER DEVELOPMENT Q&A


Christian Welch

Award: Academic Team of the Year

Club: Melbourne Storm

Study: Completed a Bachelor of Commerce and currently completing a Masters of Business at University of New South Wales.

What he said: “I finished high school unsigned and went to University in Brisbane for a year. I had a goal of playing in the NRL, but it was more of a dream than a reality in those days. I was a skinny rugby union centre. So, it was always important to build a life outside of footy as that path was never guaranteed.”

CLICK HERE TO READ CHRISTIAN’S FULL CAREER DEVELOPMENT Q&A


Jayden Brailey

Award: Academic Team of the Year

Club: Newcastle Knights

Study: Currently completing a Bachelor of Exercise Sports Science – Australian Catholic University.

What he said: “I’m pretty lucky that the staff at the Knights are very supportive of the study I’m doing away from footy, and have helped out with my training schedule at times to suit what’s needed at the University. Being a sport science degree, there has been a lot of crossovers between the degree and my footy schedule. Every day at training I’m exposed to certain things that I learn about at Uni and it often helps when I go back to my study and have to do activities on it.”

CLICK HERE TO READ JAYDEN’S FULL CAREER DEVELOPMENT Q&A


Jake Granville

Award: Academic Team of the Year

Club: North Queensland Cowboys

Study: Currently completing an Apprentice Carpentry and Diploma of Business Management & Hospitality – Barrier Reed Tafe/Allara Learning.

What he said: “The balance for each individual is important, we are in a winning industry and that shouldn’t be sacrificed; however, education should be supported and encouraged.”


Reed Mahoney

Award: Academic Team of the Year

Club: Parramatta Eels

Study: Completed Cert IV in Business, Education Support & III & IV Fitness and Diploma in Business. Currently completing a Bachelor Sport Business – Australian College of Physical Education.

Quote: “Going to University was big for me as I’m not the smartest, but I know I can work hard to get it finished. Also being the first person in my family to attend University is something that I’m proud of.”

CLICK HERE TO READ REED’S FULL CAREER DEVELOPMENT Q&A


Adam Clune

Award: Academic Team of the Year

Club: St George Illawarra Dragons

Study: Completed a Bachelor of Laws-Bachelor of Commerce (Finance) with distinction – University of Wollongong.

What he said: “Personally, I think that pursuing a career or interests outside of Rugby League is vital.  I believe that external interests are extremely beneficial for a player’s mental welfare as it provides a release from Rugby League, especially when things may not be going so well on the field e.g. poor form, losing streak or injuries.

“Chipping away at career development opportunities is crucial for a player’s transition out of Rugby League and can make what may seem like a daunting change much easier.

“With the support that is now available it is important that players use their time wisely to pursue interests that will provide them with opportunities post-retirement.”

CLICK HERE TO READ ADAM’S FULL CAREER DEVELOPMENT Q&A


Euan Aitken

Award: Academic Team of the Year

Club: St George Illawarra Dragons

Study: Currently completing a Bachelor of Exercise Science an Completed a Cert IV in New Small Business – University of Wollongong.

What he said: “It is super important to prioritise career development as a football career is short and unexpected things can happen. So best preparing yourself for the future makes transition easier.”


Nat Butcher

Award: Academic Team of the Year

Club: Sydney Roosters

Study: Completed Diploma in Business & Cert IV in Small Business Management. Currently completing a Bachelor of Business Administration – Australian Catholic University

What he said: “Rugby league is a short career compared to the rest of your working life and I believe it’s important for players to utilise the NRL-RLPA wellbeing and education programs and plan for their careers after football.”

CLICK HERE TO READ NAT’S FULL CAREER DEVELOPMENT Q&A


Matt Ikuvalu

Award: Academic Team of the Year

Club: Sydney Roosters

Study: Completed Certificate III in fitness and Cert IV in Community & Recreation. Currently completing a Bachelor of Teaching (Honours) – University of Newcastle

What he said: “It is very important for players to prioritise career development opportunities. For me, it takes my mind off footy, so It’s always good to have another focus in your home environment. Also, understanding there will be less financial stress and unknown when you retire.”

CLICK HERE TO READ MATT’S CAREER DEVELOPMENT Q&A


Alex Twal

Award: Academic Team of the Year

Club: Wests Tigers

Study: Completed a Bachelor of Commerce (2020) & Cert III in Fitness – Australian Catholic University

What he said: “The Wellbeing and Education program has been a massive help to myself, it has provided me with extra support necessary in completing my degree and certificates in fitness.”