By Jack Brady (NRL.com)
You only have to ask any one of the 210 players currently involved with the NRL Graduates of League to realise the benefits of the program.
The Graduates of League program is a higher education support system that provides mentoring, peer tuition and financial support, which is designed to help young players from the NRL, NYC and the state leagues complete their studies.
Now implemented in 18 university campuses across Australia and New Zealand, the NRL Graduates of League program accounts for around a quarter of all players currently playing rugby league at a professional level.
Australian Catholic University is one institution that supports this program, having not only the biggest representation of players across its campuses but also employing Broncos forward Todd Lowrie to mentor players currently studying there.
Under-20s back-rower Jacob Host (Dragons) and prop Alex Twal (Eels) – who study at ACU's Strathfield campus – are two such players who realise rugby league is a limited career path, and who are set to gain from Graduates of League following their program orientation on Tuesday.
Living in Sydney's Padstow and training in Wollongong – as well as studying at Strathfield – 18-year-old Host knows better than most how hard it is to balance his time. Signed to the Dragons until the end of the 2017 season, the Australian Schoolboys representative is balancing a full plate by studying four subjects each semester this year.
Studying a Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science, Host said he wants to eventually branch off to nutrition, though is focused on getting the fundamentals of the degree.
"It's a fair bit of content so you have to manage your time well that's the main thing. If you fall behind just a little bit then it just starts to snowball so this program will hopefully help me get on top of everything," Host told NRL.com.
"It's definitely tough but it comes down to good communication with the lecturers at University. They are pretty lenient and understand the situation I'm in so that definitely helps. They really compensate for us when we have to miss exams or assignments because of games and training.
"Obviously with it being orientation I've only managed to get a rundown of it through the Dragons' Education Officer but having a tutor, who will explain things a bit better, will help out a lot with understanding content. It will help us pursue a career after footy too, because footy isn't everything."
By the same token, 19-year-old Twal hopes to find strategies to help him combat his lopsided schedule between football and studying a Bachelor of Commerce.
"I can't wait to identify strategies that will help me cope with both of them together which will be very useful. Being contracted until the end of 2016 gives me a bit of time to focus on University a bit too I suppose," Twal told NRL.com.
"It can be hard at times but in my situation at the moment I'm putting my football first. It's just how I am. I do obviously allocate a bit of time to study because I study three subjects at the moment. I find it hard at times because university's difficulty is dependent on our training schedule throughout the week."
NRL chief operating officer Suzanne Young also expressed her confidence in the program by outlaying how it's turning players into "men of character and integrity".
"A player's rugby league career is not unlimited, so setting them up for a career beyond their professional playing days is a vital part of what we do," Young said.
"We are very grateful for the co-operation of universities like the Australian Catholic University for partnering with us to help get these rugby league players the best education possible."