First female recipient of rugby league scholarship

Illawarra Junior Rugby League player Chelsea Aylett has been named the 2020 Col Purcell Centenary Scholarship recipient

First female recipient of rugby league scholarship

When Chelsea Aylett was growing up she’d watch her older brother play rugby league and knew she wanted to do the same thing.

“I grew up in a footy family and we love league. Playing the game was something I knew I always wanted to do, I’ve never really questioned it,” she said.

It was this love of the game that led her to becoming an avid league tag (a modified version of rugby league) and touch football player. And her commitment to sport while balancing her education has seen her named as the 2020 recipient of the Col Purcell Illawarra Rugby League Centenary Scholarship.

Chelsea is the first female to be awarded the scholarship in its nine-year history, a feat that’s not lost on the Towradgi local.

“I was really surprised and we thought maybe there were separate scholarships for males and females, but to know it was just me is pretty special,” she said.

“My family, especially dad, are really proud.”

The 18-year-old has played league tag for the Woonona-Bulli Bushrangers for four years, including at the representative level in 2018 (under 16s) and 2019 (Open Women’s). Chelsea has also played local and representative touch football, competing at the junior state cup for Wollongong and has represented the Diocese of Wollongong in touch football. She has also refereed touch football and regularly assists the Under 12s League Tag team.

Chelsea, a former student of Holy Spirit College in Bellambi, is studying a Bachelor of Health and Physical Education at the University of Wollongong (UOW).

“The scholarship will help me financially in my first year of study. I had just started a new job at a trampoline park but I haven’t been able to work because of coronavirus, so this takes a bit of pressure off,” she said.

In 2011 the Illawarra Junior Rugby League Centenary Committee set aside $20,000 to maintain the scholarship, which is awarded to a qualified Illawarra Junior Rugby League player or junior referee in their first year of study at UOW on an annual basis.

Committee Chairman Bob Millward OAM said the scholarship recognises local talented junior rugby league players and aims to encourage them to pursue further education.

“Our aim is to have talented young rugby league players not neglect their studies while in pursuit of sporting opportunities. This scholarship will act as motivation in this regard,” Mr Millward said.

Director of Government Relations at UOW, Canio Fierravanti, said the scholarship was a great resource for young rugby league players in the region who were considering furthering their education.

“The University and the Illawarra Junior Rugby League are committed to helping young players like Chelsea achieve their potential both on and off the field,” Mr Fierravanti said.

And despite disruptions to Chelsea’s academic and sporting plans this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the aspiring PE teacher says she can’t wait to get back on the field and back on to campus.

“I had only just started at UOW before we had to transition to remote learning, so I can’t wait to get back onto campus and make some new friends and to start playing sport again.”


The Illawarra Rugby League’s Centenary Celebrations of 2011 resulted in the establishment of a scholarship to encourage current Illawarra Junior Rugby Players to pursue a tertiary education.

The scholarship has been named the Col Purcell Illawarra Rugby League Centenary Scholarship – in memory of a late life-member and highly respected Junior Rugby League administrator. Both Col and his late wife Billie were life-members of the Illawarra Junior Rugby League. The scholarship is available to males and females who have played rugby league in any Illawarra Rugby League competition during their HSC year.

The annual value of the scholarship is $1,000.

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