IT’S 5.30am, the sun hasn’t risen and Sera Naiqama sets off for the day.
With a bag and towel in hand, Sera heads to the gym to hone her fitness for weekend rugby union before going to work as a receptionist.
She doesn’t get paid to play backrow for Sydney University but she is driven by the love of the game and a dream to one day play for her country.
It’s commitment that doesn’t go unnoticed by Sera’s big brother and house mate, Wests Tigers winger Kevin Naiqama.
He may be still in bed, but the thought of his sister chasing her goals has inspired Naiqama to think about life after footy so he’s starting a carpentry apprenticeship with Pitching Point Constructions.
On top of his full-time duties at the Tigers, the Fijian flyer dedicates three days a week to attend a TAFE course and complete on-site work on his day off.
Naiqama, who is off-contract and doesn’t have a deal for next season, credits his little sister for helping him see the bigger picture outside the pressure world of the NRL.
“Seeing my sister dedicate herself like that to her rugby really made me not want to take footy and life for granted,” Naiqama told The Sunday Telegraph.
“She doesn’t get paid to play rugby, but she finds time outside of her work. She is leaving home before me to go and train and then work.
“It’s nuts. She then goes to work and back to training in the afternoon.
“It’s why I wanted to start my carpentry apprenticeship. It’s something I want to do after footy. It’s good to get the ball rolling on my future.
“It is also a good escape for me. I don’t have to think about footy, but it also makes me appreciate how lucky I am to play in the NRL.”
Naiqama is just one of many league players who are currently working or studying on top of their football duties.
In fact, only 16 per cent of NRL players across the game are not engaged in personal or professional off-field development. That leaves a whopping 84 per cent of NRL and NYC players who are working or studying away from the football field.
This breakdown includes, 25 per cent at university, 15 per cent doing a trade, 35 per cent a certificate or diploma, and 10 per cent work-related.
In addition, every club now has a dedicated career coach.
It’s an impressive statistic that goes a long way to shattering the myth that NRL footballers just play video games in their downtime.
At the Tigers alone, there are a number of players preparing for life after footy.
Cronulla-bound prop Ava Seumanufagai is studying in a bid to become a sports psychologist, while Sauaso Sue, Josh Aloiai and David Nofoaluma all attend a weekly business course run by Dragons winger Jason Nightingale.
According to Naiqama’s sister, Sera, her big brother has also benefited greatly from his “outside” work.
“Kev lives and breathes footy, but his carpentry is more to him than just a course or his future,” she said. “It is really an outlet for him as well and something that puts his mind to other things besides footy.
“So I’m so happy for Kevin that he wants to find other avenues to enhance himself and find his worth.”
For Naiqama, living with his sister provides plenty of benefits. On top of relying on each other for advice, the pair regularly do post-game video critiques together.
Sera said the sessions were always invaluable for their respective sports.
“I swear it’s like a religion to watch replays at least three times in our house,” she joked.
“I’ll suggest things and he does the same for me when he comes and watches my games. But Kev has my best interests at heart, even when he is being critical.”