ONE OF the unique things about being a professional sportsman is you spend the early part of your life building one career and then suddenly have to start again and find another.
I joined Leeds when I was 13 and playing rugby league is all I have ever done, but the time is coming when I’ll have to face up to the fact I can’t do it any more.
I’m confident I’ve got a good few years in me yet, but I am north of 30 now and that’s when rugby players have to start thinking about the next stage of their life. There are exceptions, freaks like Jamie Peacock or Steve Menzies, but for most of us, if you get to 35 and you’re still playing you have done well.
I’ve now started planning for life after rugby. It would be nice if we earned enough to retire once we hang up our boots, but – though we earn a decent living from the game – Super League players are quite a long way short of that.
Leeds have been good to me ever since I joined the club and it is a huge part of my life. Ideally I would like to stay involved in the game after I’ve finished playing, preferably at the Rhinos. I’ve spoken to the club about that and recently I’ve started doing some work with the younger players, particularly the ones in my position, the full-backs and halves.
I’ve been mentoring some of the young lads and doing a bit of coaching with the under-15s, 16s and 19s, players like Ashton Golding, Jack Wray and Jordan Lilley – the lads who are similar to me 15 years ago.
I’ve played the game for a long time and worked with some of the best players and coaches in the world and it would be a shame to keep all that knowledge to myself, so it’s nice to be able to pass what I’ve learned on to the next generation.
I also enjoy the mentoring role and if some of the young lads just want a chat about how things are going I am available to do that. I was fortunate enough to break into the first team at a young age and if my experience can help lads like Ashton, Jordan or Cameron Smith out, I am excited about being able to do that.
I don’t know yet if I’ll stay involved with the rugby side of things going forward, so I have also been getting a taste of what life’s like off the field.
For one thing, I am now the club’s fanbassador – the fan ambassador. The Rhinos are doing a lot of work building up the club’s support base and I’m part of that, working alongside Sian Jones, the head of customer experience. We have a target for this year of 10,000 season ticket holders, which we aren’t far off now and we’re also looking to develop more supporters’ clubs across the city, encourage fans who haven’t been to a game this year to come along and that sort of thing.
I have a good relationship with Rob Oates, the club’s commercial director and I have been shadowing him, learning about that side of the business as well. At the moment I am keeping my options open, but it has been interesting seeing how different departments work and getting a taste of the real world. It is a bit of a culture shock. As players we get told where to be and when and what to do, then when you get a job away from that you have to learn to think and make decisions for yourself.
In terms of my playing career, I am taking every game and every training session as it comes.
A lot depends on staying fit and avoiding any long-term injuries and I know we’ve got players, like Liam Sutcliffe coming through the ranks. He is going to get a lot of game time this year and hopefully he – and some of the other young lads I’ve mentioned – will be a big part of the club’s future, but I’m not ready to make way just yet.
I don’t want to overstay my welcome, but at the moment I feel like I am still playing well and I’ve got something to offer the team.
The plan is that I’ll carry on as long as I feel I can do a job and contribute to the team and the coaching staff and other players are happy with what I am bringing to the table.
LAST NIGHT’S game at Hull was the second in what is a very tough and crucial period for us.
After Huddersfield Giants last week and then Hull, we go to Warrington Wolves, play Wigan Warriors at home, make the trip to Catalans Dragons and then play Easter derbies against Castleford Tigers away and Wakefield Wildcats at home.
They are all massive games and four of the next five are against teams who defeated us last year, although we also beat all five at some stage.
All that is in the space of just over a month. The Wakefield game is on April 6 and I think by then we will have a better idea of how our season is going to pan out.
We’re aware of what is coming up, but so far as a group we haven’t really spoken much about it. As players you tend to focus week to week, though I know coaches usually look a bit futher ahead.
The Wakefield game is round 11, out of 23 before the competition splits into the Super-8s and qualifiers, so we need to be at or around the top of the table by then because if you drop off the pace there’s not much time to catch up.
Obviously the key thing for us is to pick up as many wins as we can, but getting through with a fit and healthy squad is also important. We got through the first three games in decent shape and hopefully, touch wood, we didn’t pick up anything serious last night.
We’ve also got Brett Delaney to come back into the ranks – and he will be raring to go after such a long lay-off – and some good players on dual-registration with Hunslet at the moment. You are going to suffer injuries along the way, so it’s important to have people waiting in the wings who are fit and in good form. Apparently Rob Mulhern, Andy Yates, Jimmy Keinhorst and Josh Walters all played really well for Hunslet in their win last week, so that is a real bonus.