Inside the NRL’s rookie boot camp


“It’s just something else you can focus on if you’ve had a bad game; you can go to work and take your mind off things before training,” he said. “Jake and Tom, they’ve gone through uni, and they’ve always had that to fall back on. Mum and Dad have always advised me I have to do something. You can’t always rely on footy.”

Tom Trbojovic, who is studying a bachelor of applied finance, said he found the “balance” of university and footy improved his game.

Ben Trbojovic at the NRL rookie camp at Baulkham Hills.Credit: James Alcock

“Obviously it can be hard to find the time, but when you’re not travelling, you get a lot of time off during the week, especially when playing,” he said. “You’ve got to take life as it is. Footy isn’t going to last forever; you need to have other career ideas.”

Career-engagement was highly pushed during the two-day camp, which also focused on past player indiscretions as a warning to young players.

When it came to a session on sexual consent and staying out of legal trouble, lawyer Adair Donaldson had this advice to offer to the rookies: “If in doubt, keep it out.

“Over the last off-season, again we’ve seen two incidents over in Bali which has involved drunken fights,” he said.

“It’s about trying to get you to make the right decision when you are tired, you are buggered and you are pissed.”

Mr Donaldson reminded the rookies of the code of conduct embedded in their NRL contracts.

“You must not engage in any form of conduct that might bring into disrepute or be detrimental to the interest, welfare or image of the game,” he read. “Does everyone know what happened to Israel Folau? So very strong religious beliefs, and he put that comment out there … it was deemed to bring rugby, or the code, into disrepute so you’ve just got to be careful about that. Again, you’ve signed up for that.”

A talk on social media and reputation also touched on Folau’s post, as well as sharing explicit images with friends. Presented by the Australian Federal Police,  Instagram and the NRL social media team, the rookies were warned that everything in Snapchat is saved, a fact which elicited gasps from the camp.

“There’s a real filming mentality where everything has to be filmed, probably not a great idea to film your colleagues or your players and your coaches in and out of the change rooms, they might be caught a little more exposed then they’d like to be,” Matt Davoren from the federal police said. “You might compromise your teammates unwittingly.”

Todd Kearney’s famous bubbler picture was also used as a warning to young players not to circulate images via WhatsApp groups.

“That ended Todd’s career,” Davoren said.

In January, after a handful of leaked explicit images from players’ WhatsApp groups, NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said, “If you put something into a WhatsApp group, we will treat it exactly the same as if you put it on social media“. 

To close the camp on day two, a team led by former Origin star Ian Roberts created a number of theatre sports scenarios that brought players onto the stage. The scenes played out the correct way to handle a teammate coming out to them, the impact on the victim of gang rape and how to assist a teammate with a potential gambling addiction.

The camp started in 2005 and is run by the NRL’s Wellbeing and Engagement staff, who were highly focused on getting the word out to the squad about the new mandated education or work rule for 2020. Recent notable alumni of the camp include Knights star Kalyn Ponga, who completed the camp in 2016.

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