'Good balance': Diligent Sailor juggles footy and uni degree

As if making his NRL debut last month and gearing up for a Canterbury Cup preliminary final isn't impressive enough, Dragons speedster Tristan Sailor is also navigating university assignments.

Starting his studies while playing in the now-defunct National Youth Competition for under 20s in 2017, the diligent Sailor has almost completed a commerce degree at the University of Wollongong.

He is currently undertaking five subjects around his football commitments with the assistance of the NRL's Graduates of League program, which provides one-on-one peer tutoring, financial support and allows for schedule flexibility.

"We get two or three days off a week so you can pretty much smash out your uni work out in those days and have all your tutorials in the afternoons," Sailor told NRL.com.

"I'm in my third year. It's been a little bit hectic at the moment, assignment time, but I've been getting through it alright. One semester next year and I'll be finished."

Research conducted by Professor David Lavallee of Abertay University, Scotland, shows that NRL players actively preparing for their future are more likely to earn selection for games and have a longer rugby league career.

The NSWRL requires its Jersey Flegg Cup players to study or work to be eligible to play, while the NRL provides grants towards tertiary studies for under 20 players in state competitions.

Sailor can vouch for the benefits that hitting the books inadvertently has on sporting performance - especially for younger players trying to crack the big time.

"It keeps a good balance so you're not always thinking about footy. You've got this other thing to rely on," Sailor said.

"If people do feel the pressure more, you can do one or two subjects at uni or work part-time.

"I think it's awesome - if you're not working or doing uni through the 20s you get the days off pretty much to do nothing and I reckon that's where distractions can come into play."

A forward-thinker, Sailor chose to study commerce with the plan to use the contacts he cultivates through his football journey for an eventual career outside the sport.

"I'm majoring in public relations, so hopefully I can get into an area like that," he said.

"I was doing an arts double degree as well because I enjoy writing and stuff like that, but I wanted to just get my degree done so I dropped that arts degree and I'm finishing the commerce one."

The Graduates of League program, established in 2012, helps players to not only enrol at university but finish the degree in conjunction with their NRL goals.

Approximately 70 NRL-contracted players are working towards a university degree, with about half taking advantage of Graduates of League.

"Since 2012, our completion rates per subject went up to about as high as 85%," senior NRL welfare and education manager Paul Heptonstall said.

"I think we had about a 50% failure rate, so we dropped down to about 15%. That was the direct relation between those that were getting the tuition support and there was a fair correlation to the ones that weren't [who failed].

"It just takes their mind away from football which can be really all-consuming. So they actually turn up to games, turn up to training with a much fresher mindset.

"They can't be 24/7 footballers - it's just too intense with the scrutiny and pressure. This just allows them to concentrate on something else for a while and allows them to value themselves as something else."