COREY PAYNE is no ordinary working class boy, and if he fulfils his dream, his achievements will seem extraordinary.

At 28, Payne is a Canterbury-Bankstown back rower who has played more than 130 first grade matches. He’s also won a Churchill Fellowship, received the highest award given to a Sydney Uni alumni, and was recently made 2013 NSW Young Australian of the Year. This time next week, he may hold the national title, too.

Payne said his success had given him a responsibility to ”inspire others to far exceed what I’ve done.”

On the field, Payne’s been been known to dish out a bit of biff, but off the field it’s a different matter. The non-profit Future Direction Network, which he founded to inspire kids like him from south west Sydney to attend university, is about to award its first scholarships totalling $56,000.

Payne never dreamed he’d get a degree until he had a Mr Chips’ moment with an inspiring English teacher at Westfield Sports High. His parents hadn’t gone to university and while they understood the value of education, he knew nothing about what it could offer and where it could take him.

University taught him ”how to think” and ”what is possible”, a message he stresses in speeches to young people.

Payne also never imagined a time when he was part way through a Masters of Commerce and that he would travel to Switzerland to apply for an MBA while playing professional sport.

Growing up in St Johns Park, Payne said there was a shortage of tertiary educated people as role models. Less than 20 per 1000 students in south western Sydney attend university compared with the national average of almost 50 per 1000.

”If you live on the North Shore, mum and dad went to uni and 90 per cent of your high school mates go there,” Payne said.

”But if your kid grows up in south-west Sydney, mum and dad didn’t go to uni. They work hard, but in predominantly low skilled jobs, and you don’t have those role models in your immediate social network.

”So where do you find out more about university? Where do you find out more about becoming a physiotherapist, or an engineer or an accountant? Who do you talk to? Because those people just aren’t there,” he said. His non profit network uses identifiable role models (young men and women from the south west with tertiary qualifications) so others can see ”someone from the west has done it, and I can do it, too.”

League gives him a perfect platform to reach others with a similar background to his own. ”Rugby League is a working class game. It is not played in the private school system, it is a very different from the other codes in Australia, and you get to understand that’s where the majority of players come from … working class areas.”

He hopes to inspire the next generation to realise, ”I can have a sporting career and, more importantly, I can have a great education and that’s going to set me in good stead for the rest of my life.” Payne uses statistics to persuade NRL rookies to continue with their studies. ”The stats are against you,” he tells them. ”And you are mad if you don’t use the opportunity to study at the same time,”’ adding the stats show the average life span of a rookie is 40 to 45 games.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.