Rugby League stars get ready to tackle the Warriors Walk

Rugby League stars get ready to tackle the Warriors Walk

It is a huge moment in their lives but for many players, the day they take off their boots after the final game of their career often goes unheralded and unmarked.

Having spent most of their adult lives as a professional Rugby League player, retirement in their early-30s seems a strange concept and one that many struggle to come to terms with.

The independent charity Rugby League Cares works hard with players to help them find successful and rewarding new careers once their playing days are over.

And this weekend (September 10-11), in a new initiative, RL Cares will give players the opportunity to walk off into the sunset, literally, in a special celebration event for retiring or recently retired Rugby League stars.

The Warriors Walk is a player-only two-day get together at which former players will rekindle some of the friendships forged on the field and enjoy once again the unique banter and camaraderie that was such a strong feature of their playing careers.

The group includes ex-Leeds players Kylie Leuluai and Lee Smith, former Warrington duo Paul Cullen and Paul Woods, current Wakefield Trinity welfare manager Stu Dickens, ex-Huddersfield player Larne Patrick, former Hull FC prop Jamie Thackray, ex-Salford, Castleford and Hull KR player Lee Jewitt and former Batley and Halifax prop Keegan Hirst.

The highlight of the weekend is the Warriors Walk itself, which will see the group tackle the famous Yorkshire Three Peaks of Ingleborough, Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside on Saturday.

The players will also spend two nights together receiving advice and information from a range of presenters to help them make a successful transition.

RL Cares Transition Manager Francis Stephenson, who is leading the weekend, said: “This is the first in what we hope will be an annual Warriors Walk and there’s lots of buzz about the activities we have planned.

“I know from my own experience that retiring from playing is never easy and it often feels like a damp squib.

“The Warriors Walk sets out to bring together retiring and recently retired player who are going through, or who have gone through, the same experience and to share with them information and advice so they can be as successful away from the pitch as they were on it.

“We also want to go give them a good time and a weekend to remember: the walk is a bit of a challenge, and players love challenges!”

Many of the players on the Warriors Walk will also be raising funds for Rugby League Cares: you can sponsor any of the players via their Justgiving page

Stars to share their experience of managing transition at RL Cares seminar

Stars to share their experience of managing transition at RL Cares seminar

Four more players with fantastic stories to tell will share their experiences of making, or preparing for, the journey from being professional sportsmen into new careers in the latest transition seminar from Rugby League Cares.

Warrington Wolves and England prop Chris Hill, former Wakefield, Hull KR and Huddersfield Giants forward Andy Raleigh, Doncaster and Ireland international Ryan Boyle and Chris Tuson, the ex-Wigan Warriors and Hull FC player are the guest speakers at the online seminar which takes place on Zoom tomorrow (Tuesday May 18) from 6.00pm.

Whatever the circumstance, managing the move from being a professional athlete to a new life outside sport is a challenge for all players. New careers often bring with them different salary levels, very different lifestyles and issues around identity.

RL Cares is running a series of workshops throughout May which, allied to the charity’s ongoing careers advice and welfare support programme, set out to help players of all ages make a successful transition.

Chris Hill has combined his stellar career with running his own plumbing business, a bathroom showroom and a property portfolio, while Chris Tuson forged a new career in athlete management after his playing career was brought to a premature end by a spinal injury at 26.

Andy Raleigh is now a project officer with Kirklees Council, having taken time out to gain experience in a wide range of industries at the end of his career; and Ryan Boyle stepped back from being full-time with Castleford four years ago to combine a playing career in the Championship with a new role as a qualified plumbing and heating engineer.

All four players will share their own experiences during the seminar, which is open to all current and recently-retired players.

May has been designated Career Transition Month across all sports and RL Cares will follow up tomorrow’s seminar with one on Why Employers Value and Seek The Skills of RL Player (Wednesday 26th).

For details of the seminar and to register, please click here

Plans put future success in the pipeline for England and Wolves star

Plans put future success in the pipeline for England and Wolves star

Chris Hill makes no secret of the fact that he is quietly dreading the days when he is no longer a Rugby League player.

Now 33, the Warrington Wolves and England prop knows the clock is ticking on an illustrious career that has seen him earn the respect of both players and fans across the game.

Hill, however, will not enter the next chapter in his life blindly, having done lots of preparation over the last few years for his transition out of the sport.

A qualified plumber, Chris now runs a successful domestic plumbing company with his business partner Christian Froggatt and two years ago opened a bathroom and wet-room showroom in Warrington.

‘I’d always wanted to be a plumber as a teenager but my focus was on rugby and I kept putting things off to the point where I missed my opportunity to get an apprenticeship,” says Chris.

“When I signed for Warrington from Leigh in 2011, the club’s player welfare manager (and now chief executive) Karl Fitzpatrick was keen that all players did something to address what they were going to do after rugby.

“He was very supportive when I said I fancied doing a plumbing course and put me in touch with Warrington College. I did my Level 2 and Level 3 at the college at nightschool.

“I’m not going to lie, it was bloody tough.  I had a young family and had just made the breakthrough into the England squad. I remember being in camp in Loughborough with England and travelling back to Warrington to attend college on Tuesday night without getting the chance to see the kids before they went to bed.

“I’d go back to Loughborough the next morning and have to come back for college on Thursday nights. The college were really flexible, I’m still in touch with them and have some good friendships with their staff.

“As hard as it was, I’m glad I did it. There are plenty of hours in the day, enough for all Rugby League players to study or get work experience.

“Being involved in something away from rugby makes you a more rounded person. Rugby League can take over your life, and being at college or working in a completely different environment gives you perspective and helps you focus better when you’re at training.”

After gaining his Level 3 qualification, Chris spent a couple of years doing plumbing jobs in a variety of workplaces before setting up a new company three years ago.

The company has recently taken on an apprentice recommended by Warrington College and employs a range of sub-contractors who are managed by Chris and Christian. In 2019, he partnered with three other businessmen to open the Immerse Kitchen, Bedrooms and Bathrooms showroom in Warrington.

“The shop is going well, even though we’ve only been able to open for around 12 of the last 24 months because of the pandemic,” said Chris.

“The plumbing side of things is ticking along: we don’t do gas work, for now, but it is something to think about for the future. I can look to growing that side of things once I finish rugby.

“I’ve also got five houses that I rent out, which brings in an income. I’ve always been into property.”

All players, regardless of what their plans are, inevitably find the transition out of sport difficult: they may not miss the toll the game exerts on their bodies but the camaraderie that comes with being part of a closely-knit team always leaves a void.

“I know my time is coming and I’m expecting it to be difficult but I have good people around me and lots of things to keep me going,” said Chris.

“There is lots of support available for players now regarding transition from organisations like Rugby League Cares. The charity does a great job and I’d urge all young players to work with them to get an idea of what they want to do next.

“It’s not easy because not everyone knows what they want to do. My advice would be to out yourself out of your comfort zone and try as many things as you can.

“Most clubs have 20 or 30 sponsors, so use those contacts to get some work experience for a few weeks or a few months. If what they do isn’t for you, try something else.

“Some lads need a kick up the arse to do it and to them I’d say give it a go, don’t leave it until the end of your career and suddenly wake up thinking ‘what’s next?’

“Speak to your player welfare manager and ask to be put in touch with RL Cares. There’s a big, exciting world waiting out there and as Rugby League players we have a lot to offer.”

Rugby League Cares employs a dedicated Career Coach, Julie Measures who works with players to help them plan for success in the next chapter of their working lives.

The charity also awards grants to players to help meet the cost of training and education courses designed to gain them vocational and academic qualification.

May 2021 has been nominated as Career Transition Month by the Professional Players Federation, the umbrella body for the UK’s player associations. It represents twelve associations covering more than 17,000 professional and elite athletes.

The PPF exists to bring together different player associations to discuss areas of common interest and share best practice across the different sports. As well as career transition other areas of work include mental health, problem gambling, online harms and sports betting integrity – areas that affect every professional athlete.

Players share their experiences in Career Transition Month seminars

Players share their experiences in Career Transition Month seminars

Rugby League Cares is running a series of seminars throughout May designed to help current and recently retired players achieve professional success and fulfilment post-rugby.

Many players find the transition from being a full-time athlete to working life away from sport a real challenge and RL Cares is working hard to smooth that process.

The seminars form part of the charity’s ongoing commitment to player welfare, which includes making training and education grants available to players to help them prepare for the next chapter in their lives.

RL Cares’s dedicated player welfare team is headed by Steve McCormack, the former Scotland international coach who works alongside Transition Manager Francis Stephenson, Community Manager Keith Senior and Career Coach Julie Measures.

The first seminar takes place this evening (Tuesday May 11, 6pm to 7pm) when three players who have already taken positive action to prepare for their futures will share their experiences.

The three players, Matt Cook, Matty Blythe and Danny Addy, are all at different stages of planning their journey towards new careers and will be able to offer valuable insight to their peers.

Matty Blythe trained in close protection in the final year of his career at Warrington Wolves and is now training director with Vanquish Security; Widnes player Matt Cook has balanced his playing career with studying for an Open University degree; and Salford Red Devils star Danny Addy is a trained barber who runs his own business.

The online seminars are open to all current and recently retired players, who should contact their player welfare manager or Julie Measures for the Zoom log-in details.

May is Career Transition Month across all sports and RL Cares will follow up tonight’s seminar with one focused on Managing Transition (Tuesday 18th) and one on Why Employers Value and Seek The Skills of RL Player (Tuesday 25th).