NRL player grateful for opportunity to pursue future in engineering

Starting university is a tough time for any undergraduate, but throw in a professional sporting career as well and it can be twice as hard.

In 2012, Charly Runciman made the move from Dubbo to Wollongong – not just to begin studying a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil Engineering) at the University of Wollongong (UOW) but also to join the ranks of the National Rugby League as part of the St George Dragons’ under 20 team.

It saw him having to juggle academic and sporting commitments in his first year out of school.

Charly said his transition from a high school student to professional league player and university student was made a lot easier as part of the Graduates of League program, which UOW established in 2012 with the NRL to increase the university entry, retention and completion rates of elite athletes and professional sports people.

The program provides athletes with support from the University as they balance rigorous training schedules and travel commitments with tertiary studies. Over the past seven years, the UOW GOL program has supported more than 62 student-athletes and employed 76 students as peer mentors.

“I never thought I would have to make a choice between sport and studying, I always thought I could do it at the same time,” Charly said.

“In the u20s competition it is compulsory for players to study or work for 20 hours each week as well as their playing commitments. I got into the GOL program and it made it easier to streamline my study.

“The program gives you help with tutors for our subjects for a couple of hours each week and it makes a big difference.

“When I started at university it was a massive help to me back then, having a tutor outside normal hours that could really direct me where my study needed to go.

“It saved me a lot of time and allowed me to concentrate on uni properly, and as well as, effectively, my career [in the NRL].”

Charly originally considered physiotherapy as a career but when he was offered a chance to play with the Dragons, and study at UOW, decided on the Bachelor of Engineering (Civil Engineering).

“I had always enjoyed maths at school,” he said. “And UOW didn’t offer physiotherapy so I decided on civil engineering.”

After two years of full-time study, Charly’s sporting commitments meant he had to drop back to part-time study for the next two years.

And then he had an opportunity to play in England with the Widnes Vikings in the UK Super League, where he spent three-and-a-half years.

But he didn’t give up his academic pursuits during the sabbatical and negotiated with UOW to complete a number of units at an English university in preparation for his return.

“I did defer my studies for a year while I was in England but I really wanted to continue with my degree so I spoke to UOW and did some units at Bolton University.

“It’s a fairly different kind of process over there, and I went into a kind of Masters program,” he said.

“It’s been a bit of a journey [completing my degree] and it would have been a 100 per cent harder without the GOL program.”

Charly is now working for Fulton Hogan, an international civil construction company, helping with the construction and completion of the much-anticipated Albion Park bypass and will be taking up a graduate position with the company in 2020.

“Having the opportunity to balance both my on-field rugby league commitments with my university studies through the Graduates of League program is very beneficial for me.”

Words by Keeli Cambourne. Originally published on UOW Media Centre.