Trading in his jersey and boots for suit and tie, Copley is now kicking goals in the corporate world, working for leading Brisbane law firm Gadens.
Described by Copley as a “snapshot of his career as a whole”, he unknowingly played his final professional NRL game for the Sydney Roosters on September 17, 2021.
Playing 148 games for three clubs – the Brisbane Broncos, Gold Coast Titans and Sydney Roosters, his 13-year football career was riddled with injury and his final game was no different.
“I went over on my ankle in the first minute and a half of the game,” said Copley.
“It turned out to be a broken foot, which I played on for 78 minutes, but that was the final nudge telling me your body’s not up for this anymore.”
Despite being in talks with another Sydney club, having a second baby on the way with wife Rachelle, and a recent injury, Copley decided to call it quits.
While becoming a lawyer wasn’t always Copley’s dream career, ensuring he had a solidified career path post-football was a priority.
“I wanted to be a doctor and was studying pharmacy after high school, but when footy happened fairly quickly I wasn’t able to keep up with all the on campus classes,” Copley said.
“In 2013 when I did my knee, I was playing for the Broncos at the time so I spoke to the career coaches and told them I needed a degree in something that would open doors to a lot of things, and law is perfect for that.
“Every industry everywhere needs lawyers, so that was the thinking behind enrolling in the course and then as I developed an interest in corporate business and matured, I realised that being a lawyer was something I really wanted to pursue.”
Copley said that while juggling playing sport professionally and studying law had its difficulties, he is grateful to have had a career path for when he retired from football.
“I couldn’t imagine the stress, being a father and a husband and having to provide if I had no idea of what I was doing after leaving footy,” he said.
“It was certainly difficult at times (juggling study and football), especially in semester one where exam block fell right in the middle of the season, but I always knew that I had to keep going with it and it would pay off one day – I’ve certainly reaped the awards of that in the last 12 months.”
Knowing the nature of the game and witnessing players he looked up to having their fall from grace, Copley learnt very early on how fickle his chosen career path was.
“Unfortunately I had some examples when I was first starting out of players who were at the top of the game, playing for Australia and overnight they suffer a career ending injury and their life has changed forever.
“To see that early on was a blessing for me, even though I wish those guys didn’t have to go through that, I realised very quickly the privileged position we are in to be playing this game, but also how it can end at any moment.”
The focus of the NRL to prepare players for life after football is something Copley said has improved immensely since he started playing professionally.
“When I first started playing, out of a squad of 35 I would’ve been one of two or three, but when I was finished it was more like 10 to 15,” he said.
“Back then the NRL had just introduced a no study, no work, no play rule to the under 20’s program, which really kicked off the encouragement and funding. As a result far more players are studying and taking advantage of the resources available to them.”
Despite the transition from professional athlete to a nine to five having its challenges, Copley said he is able to use transferable skills and experience which has helped in adjusting to his new career.
“A real catch phrase in sport all over the world is just do your job, which comes from understanding your role in a team,” he said.
“I understand that I’m at a junior level at the moment and am doing things now that I may not be doing in five years time, but that’s my job at this point and for us to work as a team effectively I need to do my job and do it well.
“It’s all about learning and improving and that’s no different in professional sport, just because you become older doesn’t grant you the right to become a senior player, you have to earn it through hard work and it’s no different in any career.”
And while Copley may never again feel the euphoria of winning a game or delivering a stellar performance on the football field, he is looking forward to the new challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
“The satisfaction that comes with winning and playing well is a feeling I can’t even put into words, and with my career change I have accepted I will probably never feel that again, it is gone.
“But in my career now, the constant challenge of learning new things is what excites me most. I want to continue to improve as much as I can, and I can’t wait to see my progression in the next five or ten years.”