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The new crop of NYC Under 20s Newcastle Knights kicked off Orientation Week at Hunter TAFE on Monday morning, which aims to prepare the young players to be the best they can be, both on and off the field as they strive for a career in the NRL.

The O Week Play Wise program includes a number of workshops to introduce the players to their obligations at the Club as well as welfare sessions that focus on creating a life balance and a plan for their career after football.

NRL Knights' talent Jake Mamo, who sat in the same position as the young Knights just a few years earlier, was on hand to offer valuable and candid insight into his transition to a life as a professional rugby league player.

Mamo shared with the group what he’s learned about himself and the game since kick starting his playing career at the Club.

“I was able to share with them a little about what I have learned over the past three or four years here at the Knights and what it’s like coming through the ranks of Harold Matthews, under 20s and making the transition through to first grade,” Mamo said.

“One of the biggest things was having a balance in life and not just being all about footy,” Mamo said.

“It’s important to study or work, and also a balance of having good friends around you and you also need some time for yourself at times.”

Former player and NRL welfare and education programs manager, Andrew Ryan addressed the players during the introductory session of the program and spoke about the importance of preparing for life after football.

While it might not be at the forefront of the 17 and 18-year-olds’ minds as they prepare to chase their dream to become a fulltime NRL player, it’s never too early to start planning Ryan says.

“I came along last year and was blown away by what the guys get out of the week,” Ryan said.

“From an NRL point of view, I think it’s so good for these guys to get a good head start on their careers, on and off the field.

“We want the guys to chase their dreams on the field, but they also need to have an eye on their career and start thinking about life away from the field.

“These guys certainly have plenty of support, so it’s up to them how they take it and how much they want to get out of it.”

The O-Week introduction morning, which also heard addresses from Knights CEO Matt Gidley and Hunter TAFE representative Marie Larkings, was an exciting moment for NYC participant Matthew Soper-Lawler.

The aspiring Knight began to contemplate and appreciate the exciting opportunity he’s been offered to train with the U20s team.

“I’m nervous, but really excited to see what it’s all about. It’s going to be a tough challenge, but if I want to get to the next level, it’s what I need to do to get there,” Soper-Lawler said.

When the Maitland local is not training with the NYC Knights, Soper Lawler will be working with the NRL in junior development contributing to the growth of rugby league in the region.

“It’s good to know there are other options out there when footy isn’t working out,” he added.

“It’s good to hear and we are getting taught all sorts of things about what to do outside of footy.

“I’m expecting to learn a lot of new things. I only came through halfway through last year, so it’s going to be good to see what a whole year is all about and what it’s like to be a Knight.”

The partnership between the Newcastle Knights and Hunter TAFE offers unprecedented support to players juggling their football commitments with work and study.

A requirement of playing in the NYC competition is that players also gain fulltime employment or enroll in study.

“The aim of the Play Wise program is to help the new recruits in the under 20s start their pre-season training while supporting them with their off-field study options whilst they are also starting their career on the field with the Newcastle Knights,” Belinda Smith, manager of commercial business at Hunter TAFE told Knights TV.

“The program introduces the players to various study options and talks to them about policies and procedures and what’s expected of them as a Newcastle Knights player.

“It’s also about understanding what their options are, both on and off the field and so they have a Plan B throughout their career."

A large number of players are students at Hunter Tafe where the U20s training facility is also housed at the Tighes Hill campus.

“Hunter Tafe offers whole range of programs, over 450 programs across our 15 campuses. We have quite a lot of Newcastle Knights players from U20s through to reserve grade and also players at the end of their careers who are looking for other options,” she added.

“We aim to to support them in a really flexible way so they can balance what they are doing with the a Knights with their study and work requirements.”