Edge Hill University student Lewis Fairhurst has credited his scholarship with helping him on the road to fulfilling his potential in rugby league.
The final-year Sports Coaching and Development student, who is being supported via a Sports Scholarship (Silver) grant, will be playing rugby league at League One level with North Wales Crusaders this year.
And he cites the support received during his degree with helping him in his playing career which also includes starring roles for the England Universities team, whom he helped win the Four Nations tournament last year.
“The scholarship has been very beneficial towards my performance, especially the gym. The facilities allow me to complete any training I cannot fit in at Crusaders, due to university commitments. It has also helped my confidence level as the facilities help to improve my ability to perform at such a high level.”
The 22-year-old utility back from Bickershaw, Wigan was on the books of Salford Red Devils as a teenager and had signed a pre-contract with the club before they disbanded their academy in 2016.
His breakthrough at senior level came with Championship side Dewsbury Rams the following year, with whom he became a hero for his Challenge Cup exploits despite what he cites as a “difficult but beneficial experience.” He added:
“I played in some great games such as the Summer Bash in Blackpool against Batley, and against the same side in the Challenge Cup – a game in which I scored the Golden Point extra-time drop goal to win the match, booking us a meeting with Super League Wakefield, who I played against.”
A spell at Keighley Cougars in League One followed before joining the Crusaders, where he believes he has played some of his best rugby, helped by being able to commit more time to training.
“Keighley training sessions were three times a week. For a full-time student it was difficult to maintain attendance, especially commuting to and from sessions alone. North Wales have only two sessions, which is far more achievable to attend.
“Further to this, some sessions are held at Widnes Vikings’ stadium which is a professional set-up, allowing the team to benefit from high-class facilities, thus allowing development individually and overall as a team.”
The League One season kicks off in February with Lewis – like many of his contemporaries – aiming to impress clubs higher up the pyramid at home and overseas and earn a full-time contract.
“League One and Championship standard are similar – both are very physical and full of experienced players looking to have a chance to play at Super League level.
“With the support of friends and family, and my ability and experience of competing at the professional level, I feel I can be an accomplished Championship player, with my focus on competing at Super League level or at a high level in Australia.
“I am aiming, within the next year, to be playing at Championship level or considering a move abroad to further my ability.”
As well as pursuing a potential playing career in the professional game, Lewis has also been able to develop his coaching skills and experience in and out of university with a view to moving into this area in future.
“I would love to be able to become a coach either at a high level within rugby league or coaching juniors as a multi-sports coach. Further to this, I would love to follow my brother’s footsteps to coach abroad, preferably in Australia, where I can continue playing rugby at a professional level, alongside a job involving sports coaching.”
Next-up for Lewis is the University Origin game in early February when he is expected to line up for the North against the South at Loughborough, with a place in the England squad at stake for both sets of players.
Off the pitch he plans to continue his rugby league development when he attends refereeing courses, with a view to potentially following another career path, and plans to step up his coaching following graduation this summer.
“I will look to take up my level 1 and 2 coaching badges, as I have had experience as an assistant coach with my local amateur club. I want to build my knowledge before searching for roles within elite rugby teams. It’s important to have a variety of options in the sport if my rugby career does not go to plan.”
Find out more about studying for a Sports Coaching and Development degree here.