Kirk Dixon says he is “disappointed and sad” at having to call time on his Castleford Tigers career, but adamant he has made the right decision.
Dixon, who joined Tigers when they were a National League One club in 2007, decided to hang up his boots after undergoing surgery to place an artificial disk in his neck and being told he faced a six-month recovery period, when he would have been unable to train fully or play.
The former Hull FC and Northampton Saints rugby union player survived one potentially career-ending setback in 2009 – when he developed a blood clot – and said, with a young family to care for, he must put his long-term health first.
Reflecting on his decision to retire, Dixon, 30, said: “I’m all right. There’s a bit of relief, it’s something off my shoulders.
“It has been on my mind for a while now, a couple of weeks and it needed to be done.
“I am disappointed and sad, but it had to happen sometime. I wanted to do it on my terms, but everyone has to retire at some stage.”
Dixon added: “I could have played for a couple more years, but I had it in the back of my mind this might be my last season.
“In another year I’d have been due a testimonial, but you can’t put a price on your health.
“I have had two neck surgeries now and I have got to think of my family. It was a very tough decision, but one that had to be made and I am glad it’s done now.”
Dixon described his career-ending injury as an “occupational hazard”.
He said: “I got to about 25 injury-free, then they came thick and fast. It is a contact sport and these things happen. I’m not the first one this has happened to and I won’t be the last.
“It is tough when you work hard to come back from a serious injury, but it would be difficult and selfish to do another year after this injury and maybe make it more serious.
“My family has to be at the front of my mind.”
Dixon is bowing out on a high after playing in Tigers’ Challenge Cup final side last year, when they finished fourth in Super League.
“It’s not the way I wanted to finish, but it wasn’t a bad year to finish on,” said the winger, who scored 63 tries and kicked 267 goals in 145 Super League appearances for Castleford.
“I would have liked to win at Wembley, but I got to achieve a childhood dream and my family got to see me playing there.
“There’s been some tough times, so to finish on a half-successful year was good.
“I have got the players and definitely the gaffer to thank, because Daryl Powell (Tigers’ coach) has been unbelievable since the moment he walked through the door. I have been honoured to work with him.”
Dixon has been “overwhelmed” by the level of support he’s received since news of his retirement broke on the Yorkshire Evening Post website on Monday night.
“It is humbling,” he said. “You don’t think about it when you’re playing, but rugby league is a family game.
“Fans want their own team to win, but I have had good-luck messages from supporters of every team in the league.
“I want to thank them for that – and I would not have expected anything else from rugby league people, because that’s the way the sport is.”
The real world now beckons for Dixon, who has been a full-time rugby player since he joined Hull from the local Ionians union club in 2003.
“Fortunately my mum and dad have their own building services company, so I am going to go into that with them,” he said.
“I’ll take some things I’ve learned from rugby into the business world – how to handle yourself and be professional. It is a tough new challenge and I am going to throw myself into it.”
But despite leaving the sport, Dixon said he will remain a Tiger at heart.
“One hundred per cent,” he said. “It has been a big part of my life. I signed at 21 and all I know is going to Cas training and playing.
“They are such passionate fans and now I will be one of them, shouting and bawling from the terraces.
“It is an atmosphere you can’t replicate anywhere.”
Meanwhile, Tigers’ Super League round 21 fixture at Hull has been put back two days to Sunday, July 12 (3pm).