From Trainee to Review Operations Coordinator at the NRL
Jemma Whitnall’s traineeship with the Queensland Rugby League (QRL) gave her the foundations for a successful career in sport that seemed out of reach at the time. Now, she is working as the Review Operations Coordinator at National Rugby League (NRL) where she works in an elite environment and overseas more than 50 casual staff.
“That entry-level role I took in the beginning as a trainee has now progressed to a higher role in the sporting industry,” said Jemma.
“I think it was that confidence that was set in the beginning through my traineeship, that reassurance from my colleagues at QRL and from my mentors at AFL SportsReady that continued to drive me.
Even though I didn’t have the skillset in the early days of my journey, through my traineeship I was empowered by the people around me to get to the end, to get to where I am today,” she added.
Jemma was always passionate about sports, especially Rugby League, however, she wasn’t sure what career direction to take after she finished high school. She took a gap year to explore different options, but when a traineeship opportunity came up at QRL, Jemma knew this was made for her.
“The traineeship offered everything, and I knew I was going to get so much from this experience regardless of the outcome. I get 12 months on the job experience at QRL, I learn new skills, I gain a Certificate III in Business, I make important networks, plus I get a chance to develop personally and professionally. I mean, you didn’t have to sell the product, I was there with bells on.”
The traineeship also provided Jemma with an insight into the industry so she could decide if it was something she wanted to pursue in her career.
“For me, I wouldn’t be able to commit myself to a degree without knowing what I was in for. I have friends who studied Psychology at University then 6 years after completing the degree, realise this wasn’t for them and now work as a Drama Teacher.
Traineeships are there to give you a taste of the industry, to help you understand the mechanics of life after school and the best part is there are hundreds of industries to choose from. They are an untapped treasure.”
In February 2016, Jemma started her traineeship as the QRL’s Database and Innovation Officer, and her role include the management of QRL Live and the National Registration Database. Jemma’s work ethic and real passion for the game won her the 2017 AFL SportsReady Trainee of the Year award.
It was this dedication and passion that inspired her supervisor at the time, Major Competitions Manager David Maiden, to invest in her long term.
“Dave really believed in me and put in the effort and energy to constantly critique and develop my skill set so that at the end of my traineeship I was in the best position to gain full-time work in the industry.
I was working in the Football Operations Department and supported the Digital Services team where I got a taste of the Marketing and Commercial side of things. The whole business knew I was there to learn so they gave me all the opportunities they could to allow me to do exactly that.
It was a really special time working at the QRL and I speak of my experience often because at the end of the day, it led me to gaining full-time work.”
Jemma absorbed all she could through her traineeship and even the little things have assisted her in the role she is in now. At QRL she went from trainee to Game Day Innovation Coordinator. Then in February last year, Jemma received an exciting phone call.
“I picked up the phone and it was Tony who is the Manager for Judiciary & SIS Operations at the NRL and my now current boss, and he asked if I would like to take on an opportunity at the NRL to work as Review Operations Coordinator in Sydney. I knew it would be a big call to leave everything and everyone in QLD, but it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
In her new role, Jemma oversees things like injury surveillance, game vision, live data collection, match review and other elite operations.
“The role I am in now is amazing, it’s interesting, it’s cool and it’s exciting. I look back and I really can’t believe how far I have come since I was a trainee.
Everyone in my traineeship played a key role in my development. My Field Officer, Christine Clifford, The QLD State Manager, Shane Johnson and my boss Dave and colleagues at the QRL. They were with me from start to finish, they inspired me to never be anyone but myself, to put myself forward, to be brave, to be innovative, to ask questions if I didn’t know something and to never give up.
I was not seen just as trainee but an asset. A valuable member of the team and a part of the AFL SportsReady family.”
Given the global pandemic, Jemma has recently moved from Sydney to Canberra where she is working remotely. Her secrets to her success that she acquired through her traineeship and career journey are to live the moment in everything you do, embrace every opportunity, absorb all the information you can, believe in yourself and love what you do.
This article is part of a series to highlight the real stories of young people who chose a Traineeship as their career pathway.
The ‘Careers are made through Traineeships’ article series features AFL SportsReady alumni demonstrating ‘where they ended up’ post Traineeship.
To find out more about our Traineeship program and the opportunities it can lead to, click here.
Download our new Traineeship Guide here, which includes everything you need to know about traineeships, including myths and facts, benefits, industries you can do a traineeship in, trainee videos, interviews and more.
Date: 28th of August 2020
Image: Jemma Whitnall
Author: Marissa Pagliarello