Canterbury forward Corey Payne has announced his immediate retirement from the NRL to focus on academic and commercial pursuits.
It's unusual for a 28-year-old injury-free professional to walk out on his sporting career, but it's also rare for a rugby league player to be named the 2013 NSW Young Australian of the Year.
Payne went within a whisker of winning the Young Australian of the Year on Australia Day, and seemingly has a world of opportunity at his feet.
Despite playing nearly every match for Canterbury last year, including the grand final, Payne decided it was time to shift his focus to his bright off-field prospects. He finishes with 131 first-grade matches after debuting with St George Illawarra in 2005.
After three seasons with the Dragons, he spent two years at Wests Tigers before shifting to his junior club Canterbury in 2010.
Payne received a Churchill Fellowship last year to research and gain experience overseas in his chosen field. He is also executive chairman of the Future Direction Network, which helps disadvantaged students complete their studies.
Payne believes the time is right to set his mind on achieving different goals.
''Growing up as a Bulldogs supporter and a local junior I always dreamt of playing first grade for the club,'' Payne said.
''2013 will be a year where I finish my Master of Commerce at the University of Sydney, complete a Churchill Fellowship, maintain the Future Direction Network, which assists disadvantaged students reach their academic potential at university, and carry out the responsibilities of being the NSW Young Australian of the Year.
''I intend studying for an MBA abroad in 2014 and transition to a business career, which I hope is as challenging and rewarding as my rugby league career has been.''
Bulldogs chief executive Todd Greenberg said Payne should be admired for making such a tough call. ''Corey has a very wise head on his shoulders and I admire him for being so open and honest throughout this process,'' he said.
Penrith boss Phil Gould extended his best wishes on Twitter. ''Wonderful footy career … However, his academic achievements are outstanding. A real success story,'' he said. AAP