The Newcastle Knights' holistic approach to developing players both on and off the field has been acknowledged by the Rugby League Player Association Award (RLPA) presenting the Knights with the NRL Education Club of the Year Award on Tuesday evening.
“It’s a really great reward for the Club because learning culture is paramount,” Phil Matthews, manager of player and coach development with the Newcastle Knights juniors said about the accolade.
“It was great recognition for the Club, but it could only happen because the board, the CEO and all the coaches and players want it to be.
“If you want to be a successful elite sporting team, you have to have a learning culture. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the 15 year-old that we select in our Under 15s squad or whether you’re Kurt Gidley."
The Club’s commitment to education has been further celebrated with NYC Player Bradie Smith being awarded the RLPA NYC Trade Player of the Year.
“It’s rewarding when you have players like Bradie recognised, it’s all worth it,” Matthews added.
The Club has established a number of associations with Hunter TAFE, Newcastle University and local high schools that greatly assist with the education and development of players.
“All those things help, but without the support of everyone here, it doesn’t work,” he said.
As a standout Club in the area of education, the Knights have championed a number of groundbreaking initiatives to assist players in their growth.
One of these programs is a media training course delivered to up-and-coming talent.
The Club has also introduced an orientation week for all new Under 20s players who begin their football career at the Club.
The program, which was launched this year, teaches players useful skills relating to their transition to independent living, education and employment at an ideal time before they enter the next stage of the Club’s development system.
“That was the first time it had ever been done, now all the other Clubs are looking to adopt the program,” he said.
One of the Club’s major goals moving forward is to continually grow the partnerships with education institutions in Newcastle.
“They are not only good institutions in terms of what they deliver to players, they also have great training facilities,” he said.
“University, TAFE and high schools provide great opportunities for us to combine education and sport in the one location, which is so much more convenient."
In addition, the Knights' Crusaders Club, a group of leading local business leaders, has created an education assistance scheme which loans players funds to enroll in courses.
“Everyone should be happy about the Club’s award and that we are starting to establish a learning culture,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, interim coach Danny Buderus was inducted into the RLPA Origin Gold Club in recognition of at least 15 appearances for their State in State of Origin. Buderus joined celebrated Origin stars Billy Moore, Corey Parker, Steve Roach and Wayne Pearce.