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Issac finds his voice with TAFE Queensland

As a professional rugby league player, Issac Luke let his actions do the talking on the footy field.

After playing at the highest level for four NRL clubs, the New Zealand Kiwis and the Maori All Stars, he knows firsthand the hard work, dedication and resilience athletes need to pursue a successful sporting career in one of the toughest rugby codes.

After 15 years as a professional, Issac hung up his boots in 2021 and looked forward to sitting back and watching his three kids play the sport he loves until his wife told him he needed to find a life after footy.

"My last contract with the Brisbane Broncos allowed me to wind down from footy and saw me get work as a labourer," said Issac.

"I hadn't thought about coaching until Matt Hartigan, the rugby league coordinator at Marsden State High School, asked me to give it a crack, so I helped them out for a preseason and enjoyed it."

Issac joined Marsden State High School's Opens Rugby League coaching staff and worked as a specialist coach across the junior and girls' teams. He's also pivotal in building cultural connections that help students reach their potential, on and off the field.

While coaching, the opportunity to study with TAFE Queensland came up, which allowed him to help kids get their Certificate II in Sport Coaching (SIS20321) while sitting his Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAE40116) (TAE).

Through TAE, Issac is refocussing his playing knowledge and skills to become a teacher, take the next step in his career and train the next generation of players.

"One of my NRL coaches said, 'You have all this knowledge of the game; you must do something with it. You can't just keep it in your head," explained Issac.

"Self-development is important to me. The TAE is perfect for learning how to plan, present, execute and evaluate - sharing my knowledge of the game and developing my coaching skills."

"I never really spoke on the field; I preferred leading with my actions, so learning to communicate messages verbally has been a key learning. It's helping me to make a difference for young athletes at the grassroots."

Having played at the highest level in the sport, Issac said it made sense to give back and help develop today's young players to achieve their goals while reminding them that they need a plan for life after footy.

"I want kids to go to school and educate themselves on being better. The average career for a professional league player is around 49 games, so it's not long, and players need a backup plan, and I will push that message."

Issac said athletes also need options for life off the field, and gaining an education is the best way for students to understand their options and develop their skills to pursue a career after footy.

"Education helps you expand your skills, grow your confidence and build a career you can fall back on. It's so important that anyone chasing sporting goals also has an education or work skills behind them," Issac said.

A proud Maori man from Taranaki in New Zealand, Issac's cultural connection to young Maori and Pasifika players motivates him to complete his TAE and coach at the highest level one day.

"With 3,800 students, Marsden State High School has the most kids of any high school in Australia, and over 80% are Maori and Pasifika. I want to help break the cycle of Polynesian kids just going to school, eating their lunch and playing footy." 

"We have supremely talented high school kids playing footy, but they need to know what other options they have outside of playing and to educate themselves for a career for when their playing days are over." 

"I never paid attention in school and only had a backup plan for after footy when this opportunity came. But if I'm preaching to them to do well in school, I need to show them through studying that I'm investing in life after footy, and TAFE Queensland is helping me to do that."

Issac has also completed his senior coach course and wants to coach professionally to help more players navigate professional sports.

"Right now, almost 50 per cent of players in the NRL identify as Maori and Pasifika, yet there are hardly any Maori or Pasifika coaches, which is another reason why I put my hand up for this," concluded Issac.