Top score for sports researcher

2 April 2013

What do Clive Churchill, Mal Meninga, Bob Fulton and Andrew Johns have in common, apart from being in the rugby league's Team of the Century?

These four sporting giants – along with more than half the list of 100 best-ever rugby league players – grew up in rural or regional centres. This is despite the fact that for the past half century, 60 per cent of the Australian population has resided in capital cities.

Faculty PhD candidate Michael Hanratty has been granted a prestigious Australian Postgraduate Award and a University Merit Award to investigate the reasons why rural and regional areas are over-
represented among the nation's rugby league elite.

"Recently, a number of published studies have shown that individuals who are born, raised and first exposed to sport outside a major city are more likely to reach the elite level than those from urban backgrounds," Michael said.

"All of the studies demonstrating this phenomenon have suggested possible mechanisms, but their ideas have been mostly speculative. I'm hoping to delve a little deeper and examine what is going on in small towns in comparison to sport programs in big cities."

Michael said he had chosen to investigate the causes behind rugby league's metropolitan 'underachieving' – rather than one of the more intensely investigated sports such as American football, baseball and basketball – because he has played (and loved) the game for more than 20 years.

"I am also now involved in coaching a junior elite team at the Bulldogs," he said.

Michael won the support of the Australian Postgraduate Award committee - and a scholarship of more than $24,000 for being a student who had demonstrated exceptional research potential. This was further recognised by the University's Academic Board with a University Merit Award: a top-up scholarship worth $5000 per year, awarded to only 34 students at the University this year.

Michael said he graduated from the University of Sydney in 2010 with an honours degree (Class 1) in human movement and health education. He taught in south-west Sydney after graduating but returned to the Faculty of Education and Social Work this year to begin his PhD this year because his ambition had always been to lecture and research.

"The University is an excellent institution for me to undertake my postgraduate research. Its reputation both nationally and internationally is outstanding and I feel privileged to be back doing what I love."