Educating Ryan reaps rewards

When Parramatta Rugby Club named Ryan Aniseko its most improved player this season, the prize could have been for his efforts off the field as much as on it.

The star first grader had been working as a labourer to support his dream of making a career in rugby union.

But when he discovered that his club, known as the Two Blues, in partnership with Merrylands RSL, was offering players the chance to study TAFE-accredited courses inside the team's clubhouse, he began to see a different future for himself.

On Saturday, Aniseko, who moved from Tonga in 2002, sat his final exam, earning him a Certificate III in Information Technology, allowing him to work as a computer technician instead of a physical labourer.

Many sporting clubs are embracing a more holistic approach in what they offer.

The 133-year-old Parramatta club, which was faced with extinction two years ago, took the opportunity to diversify.

The direction has proved popular with the community and, not necessarily by coincidence, has come alongside comparatively successful rugby results.

"When I heard about the course, I just thought I could better myself by going with it, taking it on," Aniseko said.

"I didn't have any computer skills but the course has taught me a thing or two. I feel like it's a job I could do now.

I just thought it was a really good opportunity, too good to miss. The other boys at the club want to do the course now as well."

Two Blues' general manager, Michael Bell, said the club consisted of approximately 80 per cent players of Polynesian heritage, many of whom were from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"Because maybe dad was a labourer or something, the kids would leave school early and throw bricks for a living," Bell said.

"We wanted to help them break that mould. We want to give them alternate options to progress their careers, and do it within the footy club environment.

"It's giving the guys confidence and self-belief, which goes a long way."

After surviving calls for it to be ejected from the Sydney competition in 2010, Bell asked players and patrons how they wanted the club to be restructured.

With a grant from the state government and crucial financial support from Merrylands RSL, the Two Blues upgraded their facilities, including turning a clubhouse room into a classroom.

"Some of these guys left school early because there were uncomfortable in that environment," Bell said.

"Here, they get to study at the club, with their mates, in their time.

We want to win games, but we also want everyone to have a good lifestyle as well."

Aniseko, who this season helped his team to its first semi-finals appearance in 21 years, said he wouldn't have studied further if the Two Blues and Merrylands RSL partnership hadn't established the education program.

"It's at the club, just down the road from me ... I don't think I'd be as comfortable doing the course somewhere else," he said.

"A lot of the boys are similar to me, not having an educational background.

"But when they see the boys doing classes, it helps. It's good for them to see the other boys doing something good off the field."

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