Vodafone Warriors back rower David Bhana has been acclaimed by NRL chiefs after being capped with a Bachelor of Science at the University of Auckland’s graduation ceremony yesterday.

The 21-year-old former Birkenhead College head boy and Northcote Tigers junior set a new standard when he completed his degree last year while still playing in the NRL’s under-20 National Youth Competition.

Specialising in environmental science, Bhana juggled his studies with his on-field duties over three seasons, even more so in 2013 when he not only captained the Vodafone Junior Warriors – leading the side in the NYC grand final – but he also played at the next level up in the New South Wales Cup.

His twin ambitions to become a rugby league professional and to ultimately work in the conservation area were realised last year when he completed his BSc degree and was also signed by the Vodafone Warriors on a one-year fulltime NRL contract; early last month he had his contract extended to the end of the 2016 season.

Senior NRL welfare and education manager Paul Heptonstall said Bhana’s feats are likely to have a game-changing effect on rugby league.

“There have only been a few players who have been able to maintain a fulltime university load while playing NYC.” He said.

“This is something special for players from clubs which have a large travel itinerary.

“David's achievements will help change the attitudes of all players who doubt whether or not they can combine study and semi-professional rugby league.

“It is also affirming that the majority of the players in the game, whether they be in the recent under-20 State of Origin teams or last years’ NYC team of the year, are engaged in long-term qualifications such as a university degree or apprenticeship.

“In years to come we will see this same statistic in the Test and Origin teams of the future.”

Adding his applause was NYC welfare and education programmes manager Tony McFadyen.

“David is a true ambassador and role model for all young players coming through the development pathways of the National Rugby League system,” he said.

“He epitomises hard work, dedication and persistence and the rewards that follow.

“It is a tremendous achievement to have completed undergraduate studies before moving up into the Warriors’ fulltime training squad, showing that pursuing and balancing passion alongside football can be just as beneficial to performance.

“David has expressed a desire to continue post-graduate study and the NRL is committed to ensuring he has the support and structure around him to make sure that happens.”

Bhana’s focus is back on his rugby league career today. While he is yet to make his NRL debut – he has been 18th man this season – he has continued to develop with the club’s New South Wales Cup side. He’s set to make his eighth straight appearance when the Vodafone Warriors take on the Mounties at Eden Park today (12.40pm kick-off).

“I love what I’m doing in study and I love what I’m doing in football,” he said after his graduation.

“You make time when you love the things you do.

“On the rugby league side it has been an awesome year so far, training fulltime and learning from players like Simon (Mannering) and Ben (Henry). They’ve been a big help to me, especially in terms of my positional play.

“I’ve really been trying to smash it in the gym and on the field, try to cement a spot in the New South Wales Cup side and then hopefully kick on from there.”

While now a fulltime rugby league player, Bhana is continuing his studies this year by doing a postgraduate diploma in science at the moment in environmental management. I’m not sure where I would like to go with it eventually but maybe somewhere in resource management.’

While he has excelled as a high work-rate back rower, Bhana has also become a poster boy for the NRL through his university deeds. Last year he was named the NYC Welfare and Education Player of the Year by the Rugby League Players’ Association.