The NRL's School to Work program acknowledges the hard work and dedication of year 12 Indigenous students from across the country.

The program saw 204 students successfully graduate from high school this year, while the graduation also celebrated the ongoing commitment from the 2017 graduates who have remained in their chosen pathway for more than six months.

During the proceedings, the NRL announced a new initiative as part of the School to Work program - "Leaders League".

This is an alumni program that enables graduates to reconnect with the program and give back in mentoring current participants and providing further support to the program.

The event also hosted several guest speakers, recognised the program partners and held a discussion panel featuring School to Work alumni Emily Backhouse and Dokota Simonds, NRL Community and Player Engagement George Rose and Coca Cola Amatil representative Matt Hart.

NRL Senior Manager for Indigenous Strategy, Mark Deweerd, said the program's success was the result of the one-on-one support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are receiving.

"It was great to be able to celebrate all of the graduates and the hard work they've put into their senior years of schooling," Deweerd said.

Luke Carroll, Matt Hart, Dokota Simonds, Emily Backhouse and George Rose.
Luke Carroll, Matt Hart, Dokota Simonds, Emily Backhouse and George Rose. ©NRL Photos

"We have been able to maintain a high success rate in the program and it's with that one-on-one support that they receive from their project officers that gives them the confidence to make career choices that will set them up into the future."

Eleven NRL clubs are involved with the program - Canberra Raiders, Canterbury Bulldogs, Cronulla Sharks, Gold Coast Titans, Melbourne Storm, Newcastle Knights, Parramatta Eels, Penrith Panthers, St George Illawarra Dragons, Sydney Roosters and Wests Tigers.

Rose, a School to Work ambassador, said he's seen the program come a long way over the years.

"Education and empowering young people is something that I'm quite passionate about, so to be able to share my story and encourage kids to get out and get involved in furthering their education and striving to be the best that they can be, it's something that was an easy fit for me," Rose said.

"The fact that they've been able to complete high school and get ready for the next stage of their journey is something that needs to be celebrated.

"I don't think there's enough real-life education in school, so it's really important to have mentors such as our project officers supporting the students towards them crucial years – the program sees more and more success every year because of it."

It was great to be able to celebrate all of the graduates

NRL Senior Manager for Indigenous Strategy, Mark Deweerd

The former Manly Sea Eagles and Indigenous All Stars front-rower, who is currently undertaking a post-grad Commerce degree at Sydney University, commends the NRL for doing its part in actively supporting the education of young people and the current NRL playing group.

"Prior to my era, the 'no work, no study, no play' rule wasn't around so a lot of guys went through their footy career without anything to fall back on when they retired," Rose said.

"But the NRL now sees the importance of further education and how it can be in linked with rugby league in helping encourage people to strive to be better in whatever field they are achieving in.

"The more that we keep supporting this program and more we keep supporting programs we have for our currently rugby league players, we're only going to keep creating better people both on and off the field."