Rugby League To Ivy League: Storm Grand Final Player Off To Harvard

Melbourne Storm enforcer Christian Welch has a lot on his plate right now.

First things first, there's the NRL Grand Final this Sunday against the Sydney Roosters, in which he hopes, finally, to be able to run a victory lap.

Then, at a time when most NRL players are heading to beaches or bars in the off-season, Welch will jet off to Boston to do a course in effective negotiation skills at Harvard University, one of the world's most prestigious institutions of higher learning.

This might give you the idea that Welch is a long way from your average rugby league prop forward, and you'd be right.

The 24-year-old already has a commerce degree, which not too many players in his position -- or any position -- can boast. As a person, he's also unafraid to be a little emotional.

Welch is a prop. His domain is the centre of the field. This is where the toughest men in the game barge and crash and crunch their way through their rugby league lives, every metre hard-earned, every clash a battle against both pain and an opponent built like a boulder.

To flinch is to show weakness. But Welch is a real person too, and real people have real emotions. And that's why he's not averse to shedding a tear from time to time off the field.

One such time came last season, when he injured his ACL in round nine. Deep down, Welch knew the Storm was going places in 2017 and his impromptu tears came because he hated to miss out. He was right too. The Storm won the premiership.

Then this year, there was another emotional moment. Welch was dropped from the first grade team after a heavy Storm loss to Manly. It ended up being the only game he missed this year -- and indeed, he has played more Storm games than any other player in 2017.

But it still hurt.

"Craig Bellamy called me midweek which is never a good sign, and he said you're going to be playing reserve grade this week," Welch told ten daily.

"I said, "Can I see you the next day" I went and saw him and I ended up breaking down a little bit and shed a few tears because I really wanted to be part of team."

Welch says Bellamy gave him a few things to work on, and then after Sam Kasiano was suspended, the first grade door was open again. And in he walked. And hasn't left since.

Welch modestly calls himself "an average player" but he is anything but that. Whilst not exactly flashy, he was 18th man for the Queensland Maroons in State of Origin this year, which means he was first reserve should anything happen to anyone.

As mentioned, he's far from average as a person too. On any given match day morning, Welch can be found bantering about multiculturalism or economics or the state of the media or pretty much anything on Twitter.

The 110 kg, 195cm forward is big in heart as well as body. When he does his charity work, he takes to it with gusto.

Having played for the Storm in the 2016 NRL Grand Final loss to the Sharks, and after missing out last year through injury, Welch is super hungry to atone this year. A grand final win may also help his worth on the player market. And when it comes to contract negotiations, he is determined to be very much his own man.

That's where the brief Harvard course he'll undertake in October -- alongside long-serving Storm teammate and club legend Ryan Hoffman -- comes into the equation.

"It's a course in effective negotiation skills," he explained. "Come November I’ll begin negotiations and talking to the Storm about my contract because I'm off contract at the end of next year.

"I don't actually have a manager now and I don’t really want one. I used a manager before and he did a great job, and I can see how having a manager is appropriate for players like Cameron Munster, who I live with. He's got the third party deals and the media stuff. But for me, being your average first grader, I don’t know how much benefit I'd get.

"If I'm confident in my ability to have those conversations with CEOs, I'm OK with things like managing own money and savings."

First things first. The big game on Sunday.

"I think this year we've probably had more challenges than last year with the amount of blokes we had injured and guys playing Origin," he says of the Storm's journey to yet another grand final.

"We've had quite a lot of rotation in the squad whereas last year we were quite settled.

"It's really tough that only 17 guys can go out to play on Sunday and be remembered when you look at how many players each club uses. Ryan Hoffman is in our wider squad but he won't be playing this Sunday."

Hoffman has won premierships with the Storm in the past. With any luck, both he and Welch will set off for Harvard with NRL premiership rings in their possession.