Under-20s may not be bridge to NRL

Rugby league players preparing for the NRL's new under-20 competition are being taught some harsh lessons.

The need to start preparing now for working life after football is among them because many of them won't make the step up to the potentially lucrative first grade ranks.

Toyota Cup competition manager Michael Buettner says there's no point in leaving the 100 youngsters from four NRL clubs attending the first induction camp in Sydney thinking all can fulfil their football dreams.

"We don't hide the fact that some of these guys are going to miss out," Buettner said. "That is the harsh reality."

The fact is that many of the players who are going to make it are already in first grade at their age.

"We found that 72 per cent of the current players that are playing today made their debut at 20 years of age or younger," he said.

The youngsters from premiers Melbourne, Penrith, Canberra and Newcastle were given presentations on education and employment, cultural awareness, finances and drugs and alcohol.

As part of their contracts, the players must study or work at least from Tuesday to Thursday, to prepare for life after football, said Buettner.

"We've implemented mandated non-training hours Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday where they are not allowed to train during business hours.

"It is why we have emphasised the importance of education and welfare for players by encouraging players to be in either study or employment opportunities.

The NRL is conscious of players' limited career span and how easily injuries can shorten that.

"When you use the term thrown to the scrapheap that's the way professional sport is," Buettner said.

"Unfortunately if you do get some career-ending injury, then clubs will do their very best to support and help out but you're no longer any value on the field."

NRL education and welfare officer Jason Stevens addressed the players about keeping their beliefs and values and not falling to unhealthy peer pressure, citing devout, non-drinking stars Hazem El Masri and Israel Folau among examples.

"All these guys have made and earned respect from teammates by being themselves and not just following the crowd," Stevens said.

Source: foxsports.com.au Author: Ed Logue