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Rugby League today celebrated the naming of the 2013 NRL-RLPA Academic Team of the Year with the launch of a strategic partnership with the University of Western Sydney that will provide more NRL stars opportunities to develop post-football careers as part of the most comprehensive professional athlete education program in Australian sport.

Tim Mannah (Eels), Roy Asotasi (Rabbitohs), Ryan Hoffman (Storm), Josh Jackson (Bulldogs) and Ashley Harrison (Titans) were among the representative stars selected in the team that for the first time features players from every NRL club and a skills set including graphic design, plumbing, sports science, carpentry and financial planning.

Rugby League leads the way in providing further education pathways for professional athletes, NRL Chief Operating Officer, Mr Jim Doyle, said today in a ceremony at the University of Western Sydneys Parramatta campus.

Sixty per cent of NRL and Holden Cup players currently attending university are the first in their families to do so and that is a great insight into the opportunities Rugby League is creating for its players.

To have the University of Western Sydney join the games academic partners through the Graduates of League program will provide even more players the chance to realise their academic dreams, like the players here today.

Congratulations to the players selected in the Academic Team of the Year and to the games network of welfare and education officers who are committed to providing unrivalled education and workplace training opportunities for our players from the moment they enter the elite levels of the game.

The University of Western Sydney is the fifth university to become part of the NRLs Graduates of League program, joining the University of Wollongong, James Cook University, Griffith University and ACPE.

As part of the relationship between the NRL and UWS, the game will host its Sydney pre-season Rookie Camps at the universitys Hawkesbury campus.

The NRL is setting the benchmark for sporting codes in Australia in terms of their commitment to the ongoing education and development of their players beyond the sporting field, said UWS Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Corporate Strategy and Services, Rhonda Hawkins.

The University of Western Sydney is pleased to partner with the NRL in their Graduates of League program and we look forward to continuing to work with the NRL.

The Graduates of League program aims to increase university entry, retention and completion rates of elite athletes.

Providing a powerful support network to ensure players reach their academic goals while still playing and training full-time, the program offers one-on-one tuition for at least one hour per week, which is funded by the NRL, the players NRL Club and the RLPA.

St George Illawarra Dragons captain and two-time Academic Team of the Year member Ben Creagh inspired the program with the support of the NRL, RLPA and University of Wollongong through Dr Sam Jebeile.

In a guide to the commitment of the games players to undertake further study and workplace training:

66 per cent of NRL players and 72 per cent of Holden Cup players have completed or are currently engaged in further education and career planning. The results reflect the influence of players progressing through to the NRL from the Holden Cup competition, where they started their studies;

The NRL is committed to growing that combined figure from 69 per cent to 84 per cent by 2017;

60 per cent of NRL and Holden Cup players currently attending university are the first in their families to do so;

In 2008 there were 45 Under 20s players and 29 NRL players enrolled at university (74 in total. Now in 2013 there are 120 Holden Cup players and 74 NRL players enrolled at university (194 in total);

24 per cent of Indigenous players in the Holden Cup are attending university;

There are now 44 full-time welfare and education officers employed throughout the NRL, state governing bodies and NRL clubs, 18 of whom are employed specifically in career coaching roles.

Created in 2011, the NRL-RLPA Academic Team of the Year highlights the games player welfare and education vision under the codes strategic plan, providing players with the resources and professional advice to assist them to be vocationally active, balanced in life, self-aware and self-confident and thereby able to leave the game better people for having been part of Rugby League.

The criteria for selection includes consistent NRL playing performances, commitment and progress in an educational program that is preparing players for a post-footy career and a positive influence on the other players within their club.

The players are chosen by the NRL-RLPA Welfare and Education Committee in consultation with NRL club welfare and education officers.

NRL Chief Executive Dave Smith, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney, Corporate Strategy and Services, Rhonda Hawkins, ARL Commissioner Catherine Harris and RLPA CEO David Garnsey were among the guests in attendance at UWS today.

Acknowledgement of Country

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs respect and honour the Darug and Eora nations, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.