James Cook University today became the latest academic institution to sign on to the NRL’s Graduates of League program in a move that will help Toyota Cowboys players thrive in their life after football.

Cowboys NYC vice-captain Corey Jensen and team-mate Kieran Quabba, who are both enrolled at JCU, joined NRL Senior Welfare and Education Manager Paul Heptonstall, James Cook University Vice-Chancellor Professor Sandra Harding and Cowboys CEO Peter Jourdain at the official signing ceremony at the Townsville campus today.

The program, which has grown from one academic institution in 2012 to 16 this year, is unique in Australian sport and aims to help players successfully complete their studies by providing support through mentoring and academic tuition at the participating academic institutions.

Jensen and Quabba are two of 12 Cowboys – 10 in the NYC squad and two in the NRL squad – studying at tertiary level this year, an increase of 10 from just five years ago.

It mirrors what is happening across the game with a record number of elite rugby league players juggling study books and football boots in 2014.

Among the 220 enrolled in university, 75 are NRL players, almost three times the number enrolled in 2008 (28).

Similarly, NYC player enrolments at university have more than tripled from 40 in 2008 to 145 this year.

“The NRL invests over $3 million each year into the game’s education and welfare program to ensure players leave the game better men for having been a part of rugby league,” Mr Heptonstall said.

“The Graduates of League program is an important element of that investment which has experienced overwhelming success in a short space of time with a significant increase in academic performance.

“At the end of last season we had five academic institutions signed on to the program, and now, with the 2014 season underway, we have 16 across Australia and in New Zealand, which can only further enhance the academic outcomes and experiences of our players as they prepare for careers post-football.”

NRL Graduates of League Program Manager Dr Sam Jebeile was instrumental in starting the inaugural program at University of Wollongong in 2012.

Dr Jebeile said: “It is a program founded upon a strong theoretical platform and utilises the power of peer tuition in achieving some outstanding academic outcomes.”

JCU’s Graduate of League program will be coordinated by lecturer Wade Sinclair with Leesa Pearce as head tutor.