Setting The Scene

2nd of September 2016. I’m just over the pace of a jog. Then I’m skipping for 10 metres, then I’m sprinting 10 metres repeatedly. I’m flicking my feet forward to feel a stretch down my hamstrings, then I sprint another ten metres but slam my foot down to turn back to push off the other direction. I’m warming up down the touch line of the North Stand at the Headingley Carnegie stadium.

I’m getting ready to go on. Getting ready to throw myself on to a rugby pitch for the first time in 12 months. ‘I’m not feeling anything, I’m sweet, my knee is good, I’m feeling fit, I’m ready’. All the positive self-talk is coming in but I’m believing it. It’s not just false apprehensive chatter, it’s held with conviction.

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Where I’ve Been

12 months out is a long time in sport. 3 times I had visited the surgeon on the same knee. This injury lay- off involved two- six week spells on crutches. One spell being a nasty shock after thinking that the second operation would leave me crutch free. It turns out that I would be woken up after ACL surgery thinking that the worst was over with, only to be told that I’d be struggling and dependant again because of complications. Throw in another shoulder op to get me sorted after niggles have affected me all the way through my short career and then I’m on 4 operations in the space of a year without playing a minute.


But, just hold on. I’m not complaining. There’s something that I think we must do to get the most from life, and that’s to learn and grow. There’s no other way around it. And when I came back to that pitch on the 2nd of September, I felt a resilience and a belief that I hadn’t felt before. I could feel the joy and delight to be back competing, but I was back out there with a renewed hunger for the game and a cemented attitude to win.

Picture by Alex Whitehead/ - Lifting the Challenge Cup with my childhood hero, Kevin Sinfield

Picture by Alex Whitehead/ – Lifting the Challenge Cup with my childhood hero, Kevin Sinfield

Comfort Zone

I did something that I found scarier than playing rugby league during my injury. I launched and followed through with it through to now, which will be verging on the 7-month mark by the time you are reading this. Within that, through an article entitled The Dark Side of Sport, I declared that I had suffered with depression in 2014 after another serious long layout with my shoulder. Putting that out there scared me to death, but I had a realisation that I needed to do something so I didn’t go back to that place. Flickers of anxiety made me feel that I had to change perceptions on the game, the athletes and mental health.


That comeback game was euphoric. I ran on to that pitch towards the south stand with 30 minutes to go. It’s a magical feeling when you hear your song along with the energy thrust towards you after a barren spell of that special kind of adrenaline for so long. Nothing can simulate it and us rugby players are a lucky bunch. I wore that number 13 after it had been passed down from my childhood hero Kevin Sinfield and it was a moment I had visualised for so long.


What was strange about that moment, is that I was running on to the field with a broadened identity. I now know, that I suffered in 2014 because my identity wasn’t there – I wasn’t fulfilling my potential and being the rugby player that I always knew myself to be, or worse, to what other people expected me to be. So the low was inevitable.

Now, I like to think of myself as a rugby player, someone who can write, someone who helps people, and someone who isn’t afraid of creating and innovating. I camped so far out of my comfort zone that it’s no longer an issue and I don’t have that fear for trying new things. I managed to make the Four Nations England squad which has further propelled my learning curve. Who would have thought that after what 2016 was to me, I would have found myself in that privileged position?

I Conclude

Rugby is number one, always. Every decision and every sacrifice I’ve made since I was a youngster has been to make it as a rugby player. I’m here now, but with a broadened identity which is more bulletproof, which is harder to lose. So, when people ask me what Mantality is about… I guess it’s all in this article, and whatever it may be going forward. And if anyone was to ask my verdict on the last 12 months: missing the treble winning Grand Final, enduring a torrid off season, missing the full regular 2016 season- I’d say I’m grateful, because I’ve learnt more than I ever could have imagined.

Here’s a health retreat I visited after the 2016 season…