A rugby league field and classroom may seem worlds apart but for Mitch Kenny the two professions share many similarities.
Currently studying teaching at the University of Technology in Sydney, the Panthers hooker has been juggling study and football for the past five years, all while winning two premierships with Penrith.
The 25-year-old said he has always seen a clear link between teaching and football and hopes his current profession can put him in good stead for when he steps into the classroom one day.
“I've always thought there are a lot of parallels between teaching and footy,” Kenny told NRL.com.
“Essentially our coaches are teachers, we're the students and we're just trying to learn something.
“And the way sports are set up is a lot like school, a lot of the time we’re told what to, where to be at a certain time and you go everywhere with your team which is like your class.
“Hopefully this career hasn’t finished for a while yet but I’m excited to step into the classroom and be the type of mentor I had when I was a kid one day.”
What a time to get your first try in 2023!
Under a new agreement, the NRL and Department of Education have joined forces to support past and present players who are interested in becoming teachers, hoping to address the teacher shortage crisis facing NSW.
There are currently 32 NRL and NRLW-contracted players who are studying or have completed a teaching degree, but Kenny believes there could be many more with this new information and support available to players.
“My first year of teaching was when I made my NRL debut and it all sort of kicked off and now I’m going into my sixth year after doing it part time,” he said.
“It hasn't always been smooth sailing. I feel like sometimes I'm really on top of it and then I get a little bit out of practice when footy gets a bit hectic and I don't balance that too well.
“But to have a more aligned pathway and partnership now is really exciting for someone like myself who's involved in the game and looking to get involved in teaching post footy.”
The Windsor junior said while he had the mentors and support to finish his Higher School Certificate and pursue tertiary education, many of his teammates left school before Year 12.
However, he believes this new initiative could help give players pathways to a career that continues long after they’ve hung up their boots.
“I feel like for a lot of footy players the idea of studying can be pretty daunting, especially if it's not something that you picked up straight after high school,” he said.
“A lot of footy players dropped out of year 10 so the idea of actually doing tertiary education can be quite daunting and really unfamiliar.
“So to establish a connection like this where we feel supported and know everyone's on the same page. That's a massive help.”
Rugby league Hall of Fame member, Australian Rugby League Commissioner and former Science teacher Wayne Pearce said he was extremely proud to see the NRL and ARLC continue to support schools and the community.
"Being an ex-school teacher, back in the day if I scored a try, it would say occupation - school teacher under my name," Pearce said.
"I really enjoyed my time with the department and given the sheer size of the NSW public school system, this really is a key enabler of academic talent and sporting talent.
"Not only is Mitch a great example of players taking advantage of the opportunities for players to study while playing at the top level.
"Most players will need to continue to support their families through the rest of their life and this is a wonderful opportunity to develop skills while still playing the sport.
"Thanks to the agreement between the NRL and Department of Education we'll be able to see more players progress through these programs and work with schools across the state."
The Department of Education will work with the NRL on supporting interested players through scholarships and programs including the Teacher Education Scholarship, teach. Rural Scholarship and the Grow Your Own program.