Health & WellbeingLifestyle & CultureUni Life

Student and Sportswoman: How one UON student puts both to the test

Image of Tianna Sadaj passing the ball during a Tarsha Gale match.

Think you could balance being a professional athlete with full-time study? Ben Collison speaks to a UON student who does.

For many, the culture shock of adjusting to life as a university student brings on a myriad of challenges. Navigating a new educational structure, a sense of independence, and stepping into the fray of adult responsibilities such as work; all this whilst also trying to juggle somewhat of a semblance of a social life.

I had the unique opportunity to catch up with Tianna Sadaj, of the Newcastle Knights Tarsha Gale squad and a first-year Bachelor of Communication student. I asked Tianna about how she is adjusting to university life and the future of the women’s rugby league competitions.

2023 Newcastle Knights Tarsha Gale Squad. Image courtesy of Tianna Sadaj.

When asked about her transition into university study, Tianna said that the stresses of balancing study and her sporting commitments play on her mind during training.

“Our demanding training schedule absorbs a lot of physical and mental energy, adding to the challenge of trying to complete coursework.

“With extended days at uni backing up the night after training, it can be exhausting some weeks and I notice myself fatiguing at training a lot faster than I usually do…we train three days a week and travel all over New South Wales on weekends to play. The fatigue catches up with you,” Tianna said.

Despite being in the elite pathways program, this demanding level of commitment required of the players comes without any financial compensation.

Over the last seven years, the NRLW has evolved dramatically creating new opportunities for younger players like Tianna to consider professional rugby league as a career.

Despite the significant strides to develop the elite level of the NRLW, there are still challenges facing the growth of the game and the pathways programs that exist.

To achieve this, Tianna said that the NRL would benefit from running high-performance camps to retain talent.

“…I’m sure a lot of girls, including myself, would love to go on a camp where they can learn new skills which would keep girls in the sport and would help selectors identify future talent.

“We are currently at a stage where girls like me must make the decision to either pursue the game as a full-time discipline or focus on other options such as a career or study. We have lost a lot of quality players as the support programs available are under-resourced or limited.

“I love playing rugby league and like many of my teammates, we have a future in the game, but as our other commitments [such as uni] become more demanding, we must have those hard conversations about where our priorities lie and what path do we commit ourselves to,” Tianna said.

In 2022, the Knights opened their doors to the new Centre of Excellence. Designed as a community asset to support the development of rugby league with the Hunter.

Tianna Sadaj in action during the 2022 Season. Image courtesy of Tianna Sadaj

Tianna greatly values the the contribution the centres have the potential to make.

“…pathway access would be very beneficial for the younger teams’ development.  The resources, access to medical and physical support services and building of an inclusive environment would go a long way to developing the game locally.

“We would strongly benefit from having more female coaches be a part of the coaching staff….this gives an opportunity for girls to feel comfortable talking about things that they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to the male staff about.”

With the finals just around the corner, our Newcastle Knights Tarsha Gale Cup squad sit two points off the top of the ladder behind the Sydney Roosters Indigenous Academy, and the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.

If you need support in adjusting to university life, The University of Newcastle offers extensive support services to our students. Visit Student Support for more information.

Feature Image provided by Tianna Sadaj

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