When Neville Mansfield once saw an ambulance race past him on the highway with its lights flashing, he dreamt of becoming a paramedic.
Thanks to the NRL's School to Work Program, the 18-year-old Victoria University student is on his way.
Awarded the University Student of the Year at Thursday night's inaugural NRL School to Work Awards, Mansfield said being the first person in his family to attend University was a daunting prospect, but the program helped him take the next step towards his dream job.
"When I was a kid I saw an Ambulance drive past when I was in the car with mum and I told mum 'I want to do that one day' and thanks to this program I am," Mansfield told NRL.com on Thursday night.
"School to Work has helped me make the transition to Uni and my Project Officer, Lyndall Down has helped me make connections at Uni like the Aboriginal support group Moondani Balluk which provides financial and academic assistance.
"I'm the first person to graduate and go to Uni in my family, so I'm very proud of that and it means a lot to be a role model to my brother and sister, I love them to bits and for them to look up to me is amazing."
An avid Melbourne Storm fan, Mansfield said he was drawn to the School to Work program after hearing a special piece of advice from former Storm star Nicho Hynes.
"In high school I was introduced to Nicho Hynes when he was at the Melbourne Storm and he talked to me about this IDQ camp he had attended - which means 'I don't quit'," he said.
"That was the best advice I've ever been given, because it helped me be resilient, self-confident and I will always remember that 'I don't quit."
Among the staff, stakeholders and students celebrating the success of the program's 11th year, there was also some familiar rugby league faces recognised for their success with the program.
Bennelong Energy Services co-directors Cliff Lyons and Gaven Sheehan were awarded Employer of the Year for their commitment to providing opportunities for Indigenous school leavers.
The Indigenous owned and operated electrical maintenance and service company employs over 50 staff, nine of which are Indigenous youth apprentices.
Former Manly star, Lyons, said he is passionate about providing opportunities and pathways for aspiring tradesman after coming to a crossroad himself after retiring from the NRL.
"It's good for me to look after those apprentices and I talk to them around the clock and see their growth," Lyons told NRL.com after receiving the award.
"We also have a touch football day called the Bennelong Cup every year where all the apprentices come along and talk to different companies and stakeholders.
"I didn't have a pathway after rugby league, football was all I knew.
"When that stopped I hit the ground hard and I didn't really have a career after, I ended up doing a scaffolding trade but I should have got to that earlier rather than later.
"So taking the right pathways and understanding what's out there early is definitely something I try and talk to the apprentices about."
NRL School to Work is an Education and Employment Program Supporting Indigenous Youths since 2012.
The NRL utilises the positive profile of the game of Rugby League to support young Indigenous Australians with work experience, mentoring and leadership opportunities to ensure they successfully complete school and transition into further study, training or meaningful employment.
2023 NRL School to Work Award Winners
- Employer of the Year: Bennelong Energy Services
- Trainee of the Year: Crystal Walker
- Apprentice of the Year: Rory Griffin
- Educator of the Year: Central Coast Sports College
- University Student of the Year: Neville Mansfield
- Student of the Year: Hayley Lyons
- Indigenous Community Australian of the Year: Lakeeta McGrath