19 Oct 2017

Sport: Canberra Raiders launch rugby league academy in Fiji

2:14 pm on 19 October 2017

The Canberra Raiders National Rugby League club have launched a schoolboy academy in Fiji.

Recruitment Manager Peter Mulholland said the club hosted the Fijian schoolboys side in Canberra earlier this year and built a relationship with some of the teachers on tour.

Members of the Canberra Raiders rugby league academy in Fiji.

Members of the Canberra Raiders rugby league academy in Fiji. Photo: Supplied

He said the idea for an academy in Fiji came to him during a long drive and his belief that that "the Pacific Islands, I think, are the greatest opportunity the game has got to expand".

"Rather than bring Muhammad to the mountain we take the mountain to Muhammad and we basically decided through these teachers, who were based geographically one in Suva and one in Nadi, we set up a little academy, where the boys come in on a weekly basis and have got a program that we set up," he said.

"They come into that academy in their own district once or twice a week and then once a month they get together for testing in one of the venues - either Suva or into Nadi."

"We selected four of five from that actual (Canberra schoolboys) tour, we watched the Deans Trophy finals on television from over here - they were live-streamed - which is the premier schoolboy rugby union competition in Fiji."

"And selected some boys out of that to join the academy and then watched the Fijian Under 16 rugby and the Opens rugby team that toured here in early October/late September and selected a couple of boys out of that."

"So we've got a squad of 20, which we will cap at 20 and work fairly extensively with those boys."

Members of the Canberra Raiders academy in Fiji are put through their paces.

Members of the Canberra Raiders academy in Fiji are put through their paces. Photo: Supplied

The students must get the approval of their parents and headmaster before joining the academy and all expenses are covered, including transport, meals and playing gear.

Peter Mulholland said there is no requirement for any of the boys to stop playing rugby union at school or to start playing rugby league if they're new to the sport.

He said the Raiders were also conscious of the fact the boys are still in school and that education should remain their primary focus.

"I just want the boys to be able to enjoy themselves and the raw talent is there and it's not different to New Zealand, if we're looking at boys say for example in a private school in New Zealand, their primary objective is to be school students, to be educated," he said.

"If part of their school compulsion is they have to play rugby I've got no problem in that whatsoever."

"In these last ten years that we've had the (National Rugby League) Under 20s competition we've had to make decisions on kids far too early and my belief is that your education is your most important thing and you finish school where you are," argued Mulholland.

Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart.

Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"We can bring kids over (to Australia) on camps and we can keep them updated these days with obviously online programs and if we've got some good people on the ground watching these kids and their development we're able to see it a lot easier than we did ten years ago."

"You go to school to learn. School is about lifelong education, it's about a foundation for your future and rugby league is one part of your future - it's not the be all and end all and I really emphasise that."

"The only thing I ask of kids when I have them and I want to see their school report and it's probably the old "chalkie" (school teacher) in me but I don't watch the marks - I don't even look at the marks - I read the comments."

"Because not everybody is going to be Einstein but as long as that boy is trying his hardest and giving his best effort, he's disciplined, he's punctual, he's respectful the marks don't mean anything, it's the effort that goes into it."

Canberra Raiders head coach, and former New South Wales and Australia mentor, Ricky Stuart is supportive of the academy and it's planned that he will eventually pay the students a visit, as Fiji Bati coach Mick Potter did during the International Tri Series in Suva last week.