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Statistics in the National Rugby League show that the average career span for a player is only 53 games, little more than two seasons. These are pretty concerning figures in a professional sport where the time constraints of playing and training leave many players having to rely solely on their match payments as financial income.
Up until the last few years, there had been little or no education on the erratic nature of the financial rewards, nor the need to have a backup career or education for life post-football. However, now the League has been building programs and increasing their involvement in player welfare and education.
NRL game liaison manager, Michael Buettner, said the League had implemented part-time education and welfare officers at club level along with a committee with representatives ranging from the NRL, the Players Association, Club representatives and academics from Sydney University. This is bringing to fruition programs designed to educate players on behavior, both on and off the field.
?Obviously through media reports there has been a focus on the issues relating to alcohol and attitudes towards women amongst NRL players which have been addressed with all players participating in workshops relating to these issues,? Buettner said.
Many clubs have also taken it upon themselves to offer guidance for a life after sport, under the direction from the NRL. This is designed to encourage players to take part in educational programs through work experience or traineeships.
The NRL is now looking at better ways to improve the amount of education younger players receive from not only the current courses offered but also through existing players getting involved in workshops with younger players.
?The NRL was able to conduct workshops to the majority of the clubs under 20?s Jersey Flegg teams this year and also the Australian Schoolboys team and will continue this in 2006 with plans to extend this to under 18?s and under 16's level,? said Buettner.
A preliminary Rookie camp made up of a spread of talented youngsters from each club debuted this year. At the camp, the junior players were pioneered on the ins-and-outs of the game. The first camp was considered a huge success and plans are already in the pipeline for a follow-up in 2006.
As well as facilitating programs at an introductory level, the NRL are also strong supporters of the ?Men of League? organisation. The idea for the ?Men Of League? grew over three years ago out of concerns legendary back-rower Ron Coote held for former players who were doing it tough. Approximately 2,300 ex-players and officials now form the ?Men of League?, making it a successful support network for those in need.
Rugby League has taken a giant step forward in guiding its players to acknowledge a career in life after football. Unfortunately, like many sporting careers, League is not a lengthy one. The approximate two seasons that an average players? career will span, based on the salary cap of $3.3 million, will only earn him an average of $65,000 a year. This is based on the assumption that the top 25 will be paid equally from the cap. In reality, however these figures are not the case. Just look at St George-Illawarra back-rower, Lance Thompson who last year took a significant pay cut so other star players at the club could be resigned.
As Buettner says, life after football is a consideration all players have to take into account.
?Therefore the average NRL player will not find the game financially rewarding and in fact will require him to focus a lot more on what he is doing post football,? he said.