UOW’s Gerard Sutton (left) with Ben Creagh, Warren Lockwood and Jeremy Hickmans from the Dragons yesterday. Picture: SYLVIA LIBERProfessional rugby league players will be encouraged to enrol in university courses to plan for life after football in a landmark agreement between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the University of Wollongong.While the Dragons’ focus now is on making the grand final, the memorandum of understanding signed yesterday will open up more academic opportunities for players.University Vice-Chancellor Professor Gerard Sutton said the partnership was a perfect fit.”It is important that two five-star institutions, one in the education area and one in sport, have come together,” Prof Sutton said.”We are community conscious and we can do more together than we can do apart.”The deal will also involve co-operation on university research projects which could benefit players in training, performance and rehabilitation.”Our exercise science and rehabilitation students will benefit hugely from being able to work on research programs with one of the top professional sporting clubs in the country,” Prof Sutton said.University students will have opportunities to complete internships with the Dragons in media and marketing roles. The team will continue to use the university facilities for preseason training and help promote the Innovation Campus to attract new tenants. Health and medical research initiatives could become recognised as a Dragons charity and both organisations will work to create a scholarship program to study at the university, targeting indigenous rugby league players.Dragons star Ben Creagh, who is 21/2 years into a commerce degree at the university, has become the poster boy for the partnership. The 24-year-old also played rugby league for the university.”Ben Creagh epitomises exactly what we are on about … he is studying at the university and winning games,” Prof Sutton said.Creagh was optimistic about the benefits of the alliance.”Even if it just makes more players aware you can study and play football at the same time,” he said. “By studying part-time, more players will give themselves opportunities to have better career opportunities after footy. On the research side, whether it’s looking at nutrition or player performance, it could be beneficial to our performance on the field.”St George Illawarra chairman Warren Lockwood said it was a “thrill and an honour” to be at the signing of the agreement.”We always look at ourselves as being an icon in the world of sport and your university shares that reputation,” he said.
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