In some ways, Isaiya Katoa is no different to any other first-year Bachelor of Business student at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
A bright young bloke living in Moreton Bay – with a good head on his shoulders and a healthy fear of exams – trying to juggle studying, socialising and work.
There is one notable difference.
Isaiya spends his weekends trying to smash, crash and tackle some of the biggest, strongest and fastest men in the country in front of thousands of screaming fans when he plays for The Dolphins in the National Rugby League.
Still, that doesn’t scare him as much as exam block.
“I don’t want to face either honestly (laughs). But I think I probably deal with pressure in footy a bit better than I do in exams,” he said. "Exams haunt me (laughs). But it’s cool.”
Balancing studying and sport has become a constant in Isaiya’s life recently. Being earmarked as one of Australia’s top schoolboy rugby league and rugby union talents will do that.
Joining The Dolphins for their inaugural season in the NRL brought him to Queensland and to the University of the Sunshine Coast’s High Performance Student Athlete Program.
“I’ve always been pretty intrigued by business management – whether that’s related to sports business or even just running your own. I wanted to get a good insight of what it takes to do things like that,” he said.
“After talking to the wellbeing staff and understanding how this is setting myself up for the future, I realised it was probably a smart decision. Especially as a young kid just coming out of school with studying still fresh in my brain.”
That doesn’t mean it’s all been smooth sailing.
“It’s been a matter of time management. Probably halfway through the year is when I finally found a rhythm in terms of balancing out studying and training,” he said.
“We’ve also had a study group going at The Dolphins organised by our welfare and wellbeing staff, where once every week or so we can come in and even get some tutoring help if needed. We’ve had really good support from the club and UniSC.”
A business degree might not help much with his current day-to-day concerns of tackling technique and quick play the balls.
But Isaiya has already seen some overlaps between his coursework and the business of rugby league.
“I think the business management side of it and decision making… that's been a massive part that I’ve found interesting,” he said.
“Obviously it's in a different industry. But seeing some of the decisions our coaches make, and the things they have to take into consideration – whether that's injury, workload or how the body's travelling, etcetera.
“Understanding the link between that, and the concepts that we've been learning, has been pretty interesting.”
Isaiya stresses the impact his friends, family and girlfriend have all had in helping him keep a level head and his priorities in check, as well as role models at the Dolphins.
“The leadership group we have at our club has to be one of the best in terms of looking after their life outside of footy with the likes of our captain Jesse (Bromwich), Felise (Kaufusi), Euan (Aitken) and Sean (O’Sullivan),” Isaiya said.
“It’s been awesome to have those guys around as mentors.”
But now, at just 19-years-old, as a rugby league international and university student, he’s becoming something of a role model himself to thousands of young kids in Australia, Tonga and New Zealand, where he grew up.
“Honestly, I try not to think of myself as a role model or anything. I'm still pretty young myself and still working out how to juggle my studies with my footy.” he said.
“I just to try to be a good human first, and a good footy player second.”
Source: University of the Sunshine Coast