Leeds Rhinos legend Keith Senior speaks out about mental health struggle after injury forced him out of the game

Keith Senior at the height of his playing career for the Leeds Rhinos.
Keith Senior at the height of his playing career for the Leeds Rhinos.
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“I had no job, no career, no relationship - it starts to take its toll.”

Keith Senior, is considered by many to be one of the greatest players of the rugby Super League era, but despite having won every honour in the British domestic game he felt like he had wasted his life.

At the age of 35, the Leeds Rhinos player was forced to retire early, after rupturing the cruciate ligament in his knee in 2011. He contracted MRSA and ended up having 12 operations in ten months - to be then told by surgeons there was nothing more they could do and his career was finished.

He said: “It is like a slap in the face, something has been taken away and there is nothing you can do about it.

“That passes and you go through anger, upset and all of that. I ended up doing stupid things, going out drinking, I went off the rails a bit - I had nothing to focus on.”

Senior, now 43 and a coach at Sheffield Eagles, was speaking out as part of the launch of the Super League Wellbeing Round - a group of matches which will raise funds for three charities working to improve the mental and physical health of players.

As part of this, several high-profile current and former Super League players have shared their personal stories at an event at the Emerald Stadium in Headingley – from struggling with depression and anxiety to dealing with body image and sexuality.

Senior says he started to adapt to life off the field after getting involved with the Leeds Rhinos Foundation.

He recalls: “It was difficult at first. I had played here so long and was still working at the club but not in a changing room environment. It was good for me to adapt and adjust and realise the career is over but get that structure back.”

Senior also works with the organisation, Rugby League Cares, which helps players at the end of their careers with life after rugby, whether it be through education and training grants, skills and qualifications for the next chapter.

He says in the last few years massive strides have been taken to address mental health issues within sport.

“When I retired it was a firm handshake. There are these stigmas and I think that is why male suicide is a lot higher. Men don’t talk, don’t open up and bottle their feelings. If you keep filling it, it starts overflowing.

“Ten years ago, you would never have a rugby player opening up about feelings whereas now players are doing that and showing that it is not a weakness to have issues and problems.

“We have a confidentiality clause so unless a player speaks up (publicly) then it never comes out so they feel more comfortable doing that.”

Wellbeing Round

The upcoming Super League round of fixtures will be a dedicated “Wellbeing Round” as part of a mental and physical health campaign “Tackle the Tough Stuff”.

In partnership with charities Movember, State of Mind and Rugby League Cares, this campaign highlights the most pressing issues in men’s mental health. In the UK an average of 84 men take their lives each week, making suicide the biggest killer of men under the age of 50. A variety of stadium activities are planned across the Super League matches.

John Ledger from Rugby League Cares said: "The message it is okay to talk has come through. The struggle is still there in the rest of society, it men traditionally more than women that don't like to talk about health - whether that is physical or mental but sport is a powerful and real way to break down barriers.

"We know there are ten men alive who have been involved in our programmes who considered suicide and through them that is hundreds of family members - it is great to see the results of that."