ST GEORGE Illawarra prop Russell Packer was the dux of his high school, but admits he found his first experience of attending university “overwhelming”, particularly while juggling the demands of an NRL career that saw him debut with the Warriors as a teenager.
Like many young footballers, it saw his studies fall by the wayside. With his career going from strength to strength in the ensuing years, including a Test debut in 2011, education became less of a priority.
“I went to uni in New Zealand when I was younger and I just got overwhelmed,” Packer said the launch of the 2017 Graduates of League program on Wednesday.
“When I was young I thought football would last forever, probably like every other 17-year-old trying to play NRL for the first time.
“I was pretty good at school and then I went into [fulltime] rugby league and had those struggles. I pretty much went for a semester and left before I had to do anything hard.”
It was only while on a highly-publicised enforced hiatus from top-flight rugby league that Packer began to appreciate to importance of preparing for life after footy.
“Obviously with everything that’s happened transitioning back into the game [education] was a big focal point,” Packer said.
“You just think that you’re going to play footy forever, that’s who you are, that’s all you are. Through my life experiences I’ve had a bit of time to reflect and to realise this is such a short career
“It’s not until you have a little roadblock you realise that a good career in rugby league is 10 years if you’re lucky and you’ve got a long time work after that.
“I’ve got two young children to look after so it’s good to start transitioning and to think about life after football.”
Packer began a Commerce degree at The University of Wollongong in 2015 and has since applied and been accepted into a post-graduate program in Business Studies where he hasn’t ruled out completing a full Masters degree.
He spoke to the young players entering the 2017 GOL program on Wednesday about the importance of education and having interests and passions outside rugby league.
“I’ve been studying at the University of Wollongong since 2015 and utilising the Graduates of League program, which has been of huge benefit to me and my studies,” Packer said.
“Studying while you’re playing, even though it’s hard to juggle, is good because of programs like Gradutaes of League that are available to you.
“It’s great opportunity for [players] who want to go to university, the resources there are unbelievable and if you don’t utilise them it’s kind of on you.
“Just having help, someone to talk to, it’s a great resource and hopefully all the boys that use the Graduates of League program fully take on board everything available to them. Most of these guys are a lot younger than me but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have some plans in place for after football.”