The St George Illawarra Dragons National Youth Competition team first-year players were in attendance at the annual NRL Rookie Camp held at the University of Wollongong recently.
Young Dragons first-year members, comprising predominantly of St George Dragons and Illawarra Steelers SG Ball graduates, were on hand to undertake workshops designed to assist off-field behaviour and performance covering a raft of social issues.
Dragons Ambassador Dan Hunt as well as second-rower Joel Thompson were also both in attendance to speak to the 160 NYC players and drew upon their respective life experiences.
Over the course of the weekend, former and current players as well as industry experts delivered presentations, videos and workshops designed to assist off-field behaviour and performance covering a raft of social issues.
It wasn't just players who were brought up to speed, with NYC coaches and assistants invited to the University of Wollongong to enhance their knowledge and skill-sets to help lead generation next.
Over the years, the Rookie Camp has been broken up into two or three sessions for the clubs to attend, but last weekend's event was the first time that all 16 clubs had been under the same roof at the same time.
While it was a logistical challenge, the early feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
"It's an induction for our new rookies entering into the NYC competition," NYC Wellbeing and Education Manager Tony McFadyen told NRL.com.
"The guys are given a pretty clear introduction to let them know that the statistics are against them. One in five that sit in that room will generally make the transition to first grade.
"We want to give them up-to-date current workshops with industry professionals and former and current players to create pathways to help during their careers, as well in their post-football years."
The two-day camp addressed a raft of social responsibility topics that all players would likely encounter, as well as the best methods to handle each situation.
Helping spread the messages were retired players Dene Halatau, Alan Tongue, Ben Ross, Paul Whatuira, Quentin Pongia, Roy Asotasi, Tony Caine and Dan Hunt, as well as current stars Joel Thompson and Brenton Lawrence.
"We had 25 former or current players across the weekend that were involved in workshops and assisting, and we touched on the main subjects of illicit drugs, alcohol and your choices around that, cultural awareness, respect in relationships, personal brands, finance, gambling and mental health," McFadyen said.
"We brought it all together with theatre sports which is very interactive.
"We touched on match fixing and gambling to make sure that they are very aware of the associations with criminals and the possible pitfalls that can happen very quickly.
"When we talk about social media and online reputation, it has to be very base-level. It has to be about how and where it can possibly go wrong.
"If you start role-playing it out or getting too far ahead of that base, it gets a little bit confusing for the guys. We have to start at the basics to see where everyone's level of understanding is and then we work from there."
Early reports suggest the camp was well-received by all involved, with the life-lessons provided by past and current players having the biggest impact on the next crop of rugby league stars.
"I haven't had a good chance to go through it yet, but generally the stories and the real-life experiences from former and current players had the biggest impact," McFadyen said.
"The information from industry leaders is something that we need, but the sharing of how those experiences can affect a career – especially those that take away dreams and aspirations – hit home the hardest.
"Having everyone in the same place at the same time also worked well because it allowed the guys to work off each other's energy.
"The weekend was designed to give them as much opportunity to get the tools, information and awareness to keep going in their footy careers, and hopefully that's what we achieved."