Inside RL: Screenings could help save lives of players

Danny Jones away shirt hangs in the Keighley Cougars dressing room with his boots and a floral tribute following his death on Sunday.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
Danny Jones away shirt hangs in the Keighley Cougars dressing room with his boots and a floral tribute following his death on Sunday. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
Have your say

THE DEATH of Danny Jones is a tragedy which has rocked all of rugby league.

For a player to die after being taken ill during a game is shocking and particularly heartbreaking for everyone associated with his club, Keighley Cougars and their opponents last Sunday, London Skolars.

Spare a thought also for the medical staff on duty at the game. Physios - and even the matchday doctor - do not expect to have to deal with a situation such as a player going into cardiac arrest.

Most of all, Jones’ death is a tragedy for his close friends and family. To most of us he was just another face on the field or name on a teamsheet, but he had a wife Liz and twin babies, Bobby and Phoebe, aged just five months and for them, life will never be the same.

This column has, in the past, described rugby league’s “family game” image as a myth. Now is not the time to revisit that argument, which is based on behaviour on and off the field of play, but the sport has pulled together this week in a way which is both moving and inspirational.

At its best, rugby league in this country can still have a community feel and it is at times like this when it really comes into its own.

Funds were set up on Monday morning to raise money for Jones’ family and within 24 hours an internet Just Giving page, established by the Rugby League Benevolent Fund, had received 2,591 pledges, totalling £40,640.84.

Donations have come in from fans, players, club owners – including those of Leigh Centurions and London Broncos – and clubs across the sport.

Facial hair has recently become the in-thing among Super League players, but no longer.

Several – including Craig Huby, Kyle Amor and Adam Cuthbertson – are now clean-shaven after pledging to get the razor out if the fund hit a certain target.

The total continues to rise and while nothing will bring Jones back, the money raised will at least provide some security for his young family.

Jones wasn’t a highly-paid athlete, he was a part-timer, largely playing the game for the fun of it, like thousands of others up and down the country. The Rugby League Benevolent Fund will ensure his family receive practical as well as financial help, but once the initial grieving process is over, thoughts will turn to trying to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.

Details of what caused Jones’ cardiac arrest will become known later, but lessons can always be learned and the RFL will no doubt review the fateful events of last Sunday.

Heartbeat of Sport is a West Yorkshire-based charity established to try and reduce the number of sudden cardiac arrests (sca’s) which happen in sport.

Founder Tony Abbott began the charity after witnessing Bolton Wanderers footballer Fabrice Muamba suffering a heart attack during a game against Spurs at White Hart Lane.

Among its supporters are rugby league clubs Wakefield, Halifax, Huddersfield Giants and Hull KR and perhaps now more will be motivated to get involved.

Players at top Super League clubs undergo regular cardiac screening, the importance of which was underlined by Wakefield player Leon Walker’s death in 2009.

The clubs meet the bill, but screening is not available at amateur level or to players in the lower divisions, largely because of the cost involved.

Mandatory screening at all levels, certainly in the paid ranks, is something the sport needs to look seriously at.

If clubs can’t afford to provide screening, perhaps central funding could be made available, though the money would have to be found from somewhere and that would mean a reduction in central funds for each team.

Most of the results would come back clear, but if one tragedy can be prevented, time, effort and cost will all be justified.

Players put their bodies on the line every week and the game must do everything it can to protect them and their loved ones.