League as a learning tool
League lesson ... Lidcombe primary-school children role play at the NRL's new education centre in Moore Park. Photo: Nick Moir
Teachers may often have dreamt of knocking kids heads together but its unlikely they imagined using rugby league as a learning tool.
But that is the NRL's vision, opening its first classroom facility at its new headquarters in Moore Park last week.
With a teacher and its own set of learning materials, the NRL hopes to attract eight to 12-year-old schoolchildren from across Sydney for excursions - and not just boys who play or watch the game.
''In all honesty, rugby-league lovers will probably thrive on it more,'' the NRL's first teacher, Melanie Crinion, acknowledged. ''There were some kids who told me this morning they don't like rugby league but now they're in there having a go.
''It's my job to show them there's more to the game. Sometimes it can be seen in such a negative light for kids who have no idea about the game, who's family may not be involved in any form.''
The goal is not to convert fans but to get more children reading, writing and talking. The current focus is on literacy, with a set of magazines for students called Rugby League Reads, which feature a range of text types and interviews with players about their reading patterns. Crinion hopes to add a numeracy program this year.
The day includes role playing designed to build confidence, expression and teamwork. ''We hope children will realise that rugby league isn't just about getting out on the field and tackling someone,'' Crinion says.
''Teachers have been positive and surprised by the response from those non-rugby-league children and kids who don't like being in classrooms, full stop.''
Katarina Esera, 12, from Lidcombe Public School, said the excursion was ''kind of a fun version of school''.
''I actually love rugby league a lot. It's fun to watch and it really gets me pumped,'' the young Souths fan said.
Lidcombe teacher Garth Hulley says the football codes are vying with each other in schools in an effort to get parents and children more involved. But teachers would be the key.
''This is great as a pilot. We can already see scope for this program to go somewhere, to link into the curriculum with more creative acts rather than a school-based style [of learning] that kids are bored with.''