Make a Donation
And help us make a difference.
We need your support to be able to continue enhancing the lives of people in communities wherever Rugby League is played.
Having turned his back on being on being a full-time player after eight seasons with Castleford Tigers and Salford, the 33-year-old is now combining his playing career at Doncaster with a job as a plumbing and heating engineer.
And though he freely admits that after playing on a Sunday, Mondays can really hurt, Ryan has no regrets about the career path he has chosen.
“When I was full-time, Mondays usually meant a gentle swim session and a couple of hours chilling out in coffee shops but now I’m up at 5.45 and out of the house by 10 past six,” said Ryan.
“The body is sore and stiff but once you’re moving, it’s fine. It doesn’t take long to feel OK when the job starts.”
Ryan is approaching the end of a four-year apprenticeship with Martin Dixon Ltd, a Hull-based engineering and construction firm set up by Martin Dixon, the father of ex-Hull and Castleford player Kirk.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do. Like a lot of players, I thought I’d play rugby forever, even though at the back of mind we all know we’re only as secure as our next contract.
“I had left Cas to join Halifax in 2016 and part of that deal involved a role in their community team as well as playing. It was a good experience but looking back it set me back a year in terms of planning for the future.
“I’d also done some work in junior schools delivering PE lessons alongside Wayne Godwin. That was good but I knew it wasn’t for me. I just couldn’t see myself doing it in 10 years’ time.”
Ryan joined Doncaster at the end of 2017, just a few weeks before beginning his apprenticeship with Dixon Group. The apprenticeship has involved day release to college alongside a 30-hour working week, an experience he at first found unsettling.
“I remember going along to Leeds Building College for my first day and thinking ‘What are you doing here?’ There I was, 29 years old and sitting in a classroom all sensible with a load of 16 and 17-year-olds who were anything but sensible!” said Ryan.
“It felt like I was the only one who wanted to be there and that they were only there because they’d been made to go. It was a bit of a culture shock but things soon settled down.”
Ryan has received support throughout his apprenticeship from Rugby League Cares, who have awarded him grants to offset some of the cost of his training.
He has also been supported by a sponsor he built a relationship with on social media, Nerrad Tools.
“They were following me on Twitter so I contacted them and cheekily asked if they might consider becoming my tool sponsor. The said it was my lucky day because their area manager was a Cas fan who remembered my playing for the club and was happy to help.
“A couple of days later a tool hamper turned up and we’ve worked together ever since.
“That’s a good example for other players to be aware of when it comes to planning for the future: use your network of contacts while you’re still playing to help you with whatever you want to do.
“Players do a lot of work with club sponsors, especially on matchdays when, if you’re injured or not playing, you go and meet them and get to know them.
“For a player who doesn’t know what he wants to do next, this is a great opportunity to gain valuable experience and knowledge about how industry work. Ask to do some volunteering with as many of your contacts as possible: you’ll learn a lot of what you may or may not want to do.
“Getting work experience will be a distraction from playing, but a positive distraction. It’s good to break out of the ‘rugby bubble’ and keep you mentally active.
“Back in 2013 when I rejoined Cas, I signed up to night classes to re-do my GCSEs in English and Maths purely to retrain my brain. It helped broaden my horizons and started me thinking about other things.
“RL Cares have been great for me and I’d urge all players to contact them to see what help they can get. I’m really keen to support the charity and am planning on doing some fundraising for them to put something back as a way of thanks.”
Ryan has no hard and fast plans to hang up his boots but knows his days as a semi-professional player are numbered.
“Retirement is coming in the not-too-distant future, it could be the end of this season or maybe the end of next,” he said. “For now, I’m enjoying playing at Doncaster and I know I’ve done the right thing getting my apprenticeship. I’m in a good place.”
Even though it doesn’t always feel that way at 6am on a Monday!