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Posted by RLPA

October 04, 2022

Players grab Academic and Cultural awards

The Rugby League Players’ Association (RLPA) and National Rugby League (NRL) are pleased to announce the winners of this year’s Academic Achievement and Cultural Leadership Awards.

The four awards were presented on field as part of Sunday’s Grand Final Day as the game recognised the highest off-field wellbeing and education achievements by NRL and NRLW players alike throughout the 2022 season.

The Academic Player of the Year award is given to players who show a genuine and long-term commitment to their vocational studies whilst also demonstrating the core values of the NRL and NRLW: excellence, inclusion, courage, and teamwork.

Conversely, each club Wellbeing and Education Manager along with the Indigenous and Pasifika Player Advisory Groups put forward players for the Cultural Leadership and Excellence Award. These awards require players to not only meet the conditions for the Academic Player of the Year, but also demonstrate a proactive involvement in club and community activities that support, educate, or promote cultural empowerment. 

The RLPA and NRL are pleased to announce the winners of this year’s Male and Female Academic Achievement awards as well as the Indigenous and Pasifika Leadership and Excellence awards.

2022 Male Academic Achievement Award

Winner: Rhys Kennedy (Brisbane Broncos)

Rhys has been a diligent student athlete throughout his career. After completing his Bachelor degree of Exercise Science in 2020, Rhys has gone on to study a Masters of Clinical Exercise Physiology while playing first grade in the NRL.  After two-and-a-half years studying part time, Rhys has successfully completed his course, and is now a fully qualified Exercise Physiologist. In total, Rhys has completed four clinical practical placements through his Masters degree — primarily completed in the off season — and has negotiated with Broncos coaching staff to help manage placement times and availability. In addition to this, Rhys has also lined up professional work as an Exercise physiologist at The Movement Standard, a clinical exercise physiology, rehab and strength and conditioning centre.

2022 Female Academic Achievement Award

Winner: Emma Tonegato (St George-Illawarra Dragons)

Emma has demonstrated a serious commitment to her studies and preparing for her future career. Not only was Emma able to complete a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy degree whilst being a professional athlete, but she also achieved an Executive Deans Commendation letter following her excellent grades. Emma also worked as disability support worker for What Ability and Movement Five throughout the completion of her degree to give her further knowledge in the field and experience. Since completing her degree, Emma has begun permanent work as an Occupational Therapist and works full-time whilst continuing to manage her training and rugby league commitments.

2022 Pasifika Leadership and Excellence Award

Winner: James Tamou (Wests Tigers)

James Tamou affectionally known as Jimmy has been a mainstay in the NRL since his debut in 2009. Born in Palmerston North NZ, Jimmy is of Māori and Cook Island (as well as Danish) decent and has won some of the most prestigious team awards across the game from Premierships to World Cups.  He was a joint captain at the Wests Tigers in 2022 through a difficult season and established himself as one of the games greats after playing his 300th NRL game in Round 19. James was a part of the RLPA Player Advisory Group, Māori & Pasifika Players Advisory Group as well as sitting on the club’s Wellbeing Committee and Leadership Team.

Over the course of his career Jimmy has engaged and completed multiple certifications, licences and courses as well as participating in various programs run by the NRL. Championing the Club’s Community Blitz earlier in the year, he has consistently been an advocate for community work and given his time to different organisations. James is an ambassador for NSW Wheelchair Rugby League and was part of an activation for wheelchair rugby league in local schools through the Wests Tigers Community team. 

2022 Indigenous Leadership and Excellence Award

Winner: Ryan James (Brisbane Broncos)

Ryan James has been awarded the Indigenous Leadership and Excellence Award through the establishment of the Ryan James Foundation in addition to his continued education of a Masters in Business Administration through Bond University (MBA).

The Ryan James Foundation aims to create a clear pathway for succession planning of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders, children, youth, and young families through committing to long-term investments in Indigenous cultural communities. The objectives are to increase the number of Indigenous businesses and growth outcomes whilst helping to employ and retain Indigenous employees within the foundation and business. Ultimately, growing both businesses and capability whilst giving back to the community through education and cultural inputs via community leaders are James’ top priorities through the foundation, which is proudly supported by the Ryan James Group and larger stakeholders. 

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