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Young stars not the only target for Bond rugby scholarship

2021 John Eales Rugby Excellence Scholarship recipient Joey Fittock. PICTURE: Cavan Flynn

Bond University’s prestigious John Eales Rugby Excellence Scholarship is available to a much wider field than just future stars stepping out of high school.

The annual scholarship is now open and, as Bond’s Director of Rugby Luca Liussi explains, the age bracket for applicants embraces players well into their careers.

“Sure, we want the next teenage Michael Hooper or James O’Connor to reach their career dreams via the John Eales scholarship pathway, but they are not the only player type we are targeting,” says Liussi.

“This scholarship offers a great deal to the recipient, however the university, and its rugby club, are also seeking to get great value from that successful applicant in return.

“That value may come via a youngster blossoming into an international player, or the value may come through other skill sets learned over a longer period, such as leadership and experience.

“We are certainly looking at all options when it comes to bringing more experience into the rugby club and the John Eales scholarship is one avenue.

“Since the scholarship’s inception we have had the player straight out of high school. In recent years we have seen the scholarship awarded to players a little older, post-graduate students.

“But there is even a third tier who are eligible and who offer a lot – high-end players who are current top professionals, but are looking at a career post-rugby and are considering their study options.

“These players certainly offer leadership and experience.”

Liussi said the John Eales Rugby Excellence Scholarship, which has been awarded since 2014, had already proven its aim of assisting aspirational rugby players to reach their academic and sporting goals.

The scholarship has always rewarded players who have shone across a variety of key disciplines. Leadership and community involvement have been vital criteria.

Among its attractions is the fact that recipients receive one-on-one mentoring from rugby great John Eales.

“John is not only greatly invested in this scholarship, but he is a shining example of what can be achieved on and off the field,” said Liussi.

“He is the epitome of what you mean when you describe leadership.

“The Bond rugby club is a unique model. We are also a relatively young club. Leadership and experience are two areas we are currently focused on. We certainly want quality rugby players across Australia to know that if you are considering tertiary study, then consider what we have to offer – on and off the field.

“From a university perspective we are internationally renowned. From a rugby perspective we have coaching and training infrastructure that is also world class.”

Two recent John Eales scholarship recipients, Joey Fittock, 25, and Jake Upfield, 26, were both experienced first grade rugby players when they were awarded their scholarships.

Both are currently playing top grade for the Bond Bull Sharks.

Fittock, who boasts a stellar junior representative career, has been knocking on the Reds door for several years, and still has hopes of wearing the senior Queensland colours.

“The aspirations to play at the highest level are still there,” he said.

“I was called into the Reds training squad last year and was there for about 10 weeks. I didn’t get any game time, but it was good experience to be among those senior players.”

Fittock has been sidelined for several weeks after a head knock, but is hopeful of returning this weekend against Easts. The exciting fullback said the John Eales scholarship was crucial in his decision to continue to aim to play rugby at the highest level, while allowing him to start his Doctor of Physiotherapy studies at Bond.

“So, although I do have those playing aspirations, I do look forward to starting a career outside of rugby as well,” he said. “But, unless you are a contracted player it is hard financially.

“I am very happy with where I am now. Bond have been super supportive and I have had the opportunity to speak to John (Eales) on several occasions.”

Upfield, a talented lock, began his Master of Business Administration at Bond in January, and said his scholarship was also a major reason why he was still able to pursue his rugby passion.

“With how the Australian rugby system is at the moment, in a way, if you don’t crack that system as a schoolboy it might be very hard to make it down the track,” he said.

“So those who commit to rugby past the under 20s and don’t quite get there, then they start to think, ‘I have to start thinking about my future’. The John Eales scholarship becomes hugely attractive to those people.

“And this also works for Bond because they are looking for the more experienced leaders to make the team dynamic more rounded. You can’t have a first grade team made up of just 20-year-olds.”

Upfield has also been sidelined, with a fractured wrist, and is hopeful of returning a couple of weeks before the finals.

He said the juggle of rugby, work and study was going well.

“The support staff at Bond in the elite sports program are really awesome. They make life so much easier.”

For information on the John Eales Rugby Excellence Scholarship:

Scholarship applications are open now and will close on Sunday, September 5.

Recipients of the John Eales Rugby Excellence Scholarship:

2014 Douglas MacMillan; 2014 Ben Hunt; 2015 Alex Mafi; 2015 PJ van den Berg; 2016 Dylan Riley; 2016 Gavin Luka; 2017 Angus Blyth; 2018 Lachlan Connors; 2018 Maxwell Dowd; 2019 Spencer Jeans; 2019 Matthew Minogue; 2019 Jack Winchester; 2020 Wilson Blyth; 2021 Joseph Fittock; 2021 Jake Upfield.

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