Ropati, who ended his 145-game Vodafone Warriors career earlier this season, has won the inaugural NRL Pasifika Academic Excellence Award along with fellow NRL veteran and former Kiwi team-mate Sam Perrett.

The Pasifika Academic Excellence Award is available to two NRL players of Pasifika heritage who have excelled and demonstrated a long-term commitment to rugby league, academia and Pasifika outreach.

During his 12 seasons as an NRL player Ropati (29) was tirelessly committed to both Vodafone Warriors and personal community initiatives and activities. He has a special interest in educational programmes having been the face of and a driving force behind the Konica Minolta-sponsored League in Libraries literacy programme.

Now in retirement his involvement has stepped up further in an ambassador’s role for the club.

As a recipient of the Pasifika award, Ropati will join Perrett during the off-season on a scholarship at the famed University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

The Kiwi internationals travel to Los Angeles to learn about Pacific Islander studies and Pasifika outreach programmes at UCLA. During their 10-day stay they will also attending training and matches with college sporting teams.

Ropati was humbled by the acknowledgement.

“It’s a huge honour to be the first co-winner of this award with Sam,” he said.

“I had to make the decision earlier than I had wanted to end my playing career but throughout I have always enjoyed the chance to make a contribution off the field and to help in the community in any way I can.”

Vodafone Warriors welfare and education manager Jerry Seuseu said Ropati had been the ultimate example of an NRL player who had achieved balance between his football career and his life off it.

“This is well-deserved recognition for Jerome,” he said.

“He has made a huge contribution in the community and is doing even more now as an ambassador for the club. He has always given real consideration to his options away from football.”