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Ray Thompson | Photo: Scott Davis © NRL Photos

North Queensland Toyota Cowboys hooker Ray Thompson has been recognised for his leadership on and off the field with an NRL-RLPA Indigenous Leadership and Excellence Award.

As part of his prize, Thompson will travel with three other award winners to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to attend lectures, share stories and celebrate their achievements on an international scale.

"Ray is a great role model, setting an excellent example in completing his apprenticeship, and has shown strong leadership in the game, including his time spent with the Indigenous All Stars," NRL Indigenous welfare and education manager Dean Widders said.

Thompson completed his qualifications to become a plumber while fulfilling his duties as a contracted NRL player with the Cowboys, and has now played 105 games for the club since debuting in 2009.

He has also represented Papua New Guinea and played for the Indigenous All Stars in 2015.

"I'm very honoured to win this award," Thompson said in his video acceptance speech.

"Thank you to the sponsors, the NRL and everyone else involved.

"I look forward to visiting UCLA and furthering my experience and knowledge."

The award was part of Tuesday's announcement for the 2016 NRL-RLPA Academic Team of the Year, with Cowboys under-20s player Ross Bella, completing his third year of an electrical apprenticeship, named in the NYC Academic Team of the Year.

To see the full awards list, visit

Senior NRL wellbeing and education manager Paul Heptonstall expressed his delight at seeing so many players now enrolled in university or certificate programs.

“The most pleasing aspect of this increased educational engagement is that the very best players in the game are showing that it is very possible to combine a professional athletic career with other vocational pursuits,” Mr Heptonstall said.

“It’s a wonderful achievement and testament to the players' continued commitment to balancing their life off the field.

“They are the ideal example for the next generation of professional athletes to follow – that there is much more to life than football.”

NRL-RLPA program highlights:

  • 800 of the 1,000 NRL and NYC players are currently engaged in further education or workplace training.
  • 21% of NRL and NYC players enrolled in a university degree at the start of the 2016 season.
  • 40% of NRL and NYC attempted a Certificate to Diploma program with approx. 15% of these doing a formal trade apprenticeship.
  • Currently 18 academic institutions deliver the NRL's Graduates of League program. The completion rate of all players attempting university courses has continued to increase with 85% of all subjects attempted being passed. 
  • There has been $600k in education grants provided by the RLPA to over 400 different players' education.
  • NRL Clubs have provided their players with an additional $2.4 million in educational incentives to engage in vocational pursuits away from football.
  • 16 of the 36 players to play in this year’s U/20s Qld or NSW State of Origin teams were studying at university with the balance doing apprenticeships, trades or vocational experience.