FROM NRL bad boy, to one of the game’s shining lights.
It’s the journey departing Dragons forward Russell Packer has been on in three years rebuilding his life and NRL career in Wollongong.
It culminated in his graduation from University of Wollongong on Wednesday with a graduate certificate in business, three years after a prison sentence almost cost him everything.
The one constant through it all, has been the support of wife Lara and his children, daughter Maddie and son Marley, who were on hand to witness his graduation.
“It’s a nice way to finish, not only at the Dragons, but this little chapter of our our life here in Wollongong,” Packer said.
“It makes me really proud. They’ve been with me the whole way, through thick and thin. They’re a massive motivator for me, not only in sport, but in academic work and just how I try to live my life now.
“It’s an old cliche, but they’re the reason why you do it. It’s good to have them here and share in this special moment. We can look back at the pictures in 10-15 years and it’ll be a moment we can cherish as a family.”
Packer has found career best form with the Dragons this season, earning a recall for the Kiwis six years after debuting in the Test arena.
He said focus on his studies has played no small role in his career resurgence, particularly the year he spent in rugby league purgatory.
“[Education’s] been pretty integral part of my journey for the last three years,” Packer said.
“I’ve talked a lot about it, particularly in the last couple of days reflecting on things.
“Coming out and starting afresh, education was the foundation to rebuild my life and rebuild my career as a rugby league player.
“Everything that I’ve been through shows that rugby league can stop at any one point in time. Eventually we’ll all need to get real jobs, or whatever you want to call them.
“Hopefully some guys out there can use me as an example that anyone can have a crack after all the stuff I’ve been through.”
Packer will now link with Wests Tigers on four-year deal from 2018, but he said his time in Wollongong with Dragons is a period he will always treasure.
“It’s obviously sad to leave, I’ll do it with a heavy heart,” Packer said.
“My family and I have rebuilt our life here. My daughter’s seven, she was only four when we came here. She’s had her first day of school here, all those type of life-long memories we’ve made in our three years here.
“A lot of great relationships have been made but, as it is in anything, one door closes another one opens. We’re excited about our future.
“It’s tough to make that decision [to leave], but we were happy at the time and that’s still the case now. I’m really excited to join the Tigers.”