Leeds Rhinos: Hats off to Stevie for bringing ‘taboo subject’ into the open – Ablett

Stevie Ward with the Challenge Cup.
Stevie Ward with the Challenge Cup.
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HATS OFF to Stevie Ward for opening up about what he has been going through since he got injured last September.

Blokes don’t like to talk about their feelings, so it’s a brave step for Stevie to be honest and admit he has had depression.

What Stevie is doing is creating awareness of something that affects a lot of people, in all walks of life, but is still looked on as a bit of a taboo subject for some reason.

People go through difficulties whatever they do for a living, but when you play professional sport you are sometimes portrayed as a super-human, because of whatever skill or athletic ability you’ve got.

But being able to run fast or pass or kick a ball doesn’t make you immune from the issues everyone goes through at some time or another. As rugby players we are lucky, because we are getting paid to do something we love.

There’s nothing better than that, but at times our sport can be brutal and lonely. You take the glory, so sometimes you have to cop the flak when things aren’t going well, which is the situation we are in at the moment.

But as I’ve said in this column already this year, the worst thing about professional sport is being injured. Everyone gets knocks and has to miss matches now and again, but Stevie has had two really long lay-offs and they are hard to cope with.

Stevie got over one injury, came back and then got injured again. That’s a nasty cycle; it’s hard to deal with, especially at the end of the year when you are missing big games and finals.

It can be a dark place when you are on the sidelines and you can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.

Being part of the team is one of the best parts of our job, but when you are injured that’s taken away from you.

I don’t mean people give you the cold shoulder or don’t try to involve you in things, but you aren’t in the changing room and when they are on the field training, you are having physio or working in the gym, so you don’t feel part of it.

That’s tough and it is a lonely business, trying to recover from a long-term injury.

I think it’s important to get the message across that players are only human and we have ups and downs, just like everybody else.

Hearing about Stevie’s problems and seeing what he has been going through, I really feel for him.

Even as a team-mate, I wasn’t really aware of how he has been feeling.

It is a pretty macho environment and players do put on a bit of a persona that things are all right, when they aren’t.

When you are injured you do try and put on a bit of a front and you talk about coming back better and stronger, but obviously sometimes there’s a difference between saying something and really believing it deep down.

I think because Stevie is a bit of a public figure and he does have a macho image, as a rugby player, by speaking out about how he is feeling he will help others to do the same.

Even since I started playing, clubs and the RFL have really begun to take player welfare seriously, which is obviously a good thing.

We have the State of Mind round in Super League now, which raises awareness and most, if not all, clubs have player-welfare managers.

There are people at the club you can speak to if needed and I think that’s really important. You get looked after physically, but the mental side of things is just as crucial.

There’s always physio available if you are carrying a knock or preparing for a game, but now if you need to talk to someone about your game or things that are happening in your life, there is someone there.

I had a long-term injury right at the start of my career when I did my acl and there’s been medium-term ones along the way, but I’ve been pretty fortunate. I am out of action at the moment, but I was ever-present last year, so I was probably due a bit of bad luck.

One of the things that’s helping me at the moment is the fact we’ve got quite a few other players out. There’s always somebody else around when I’m getting physio or I’m in the gym, but Stevie hasn’t always had that.

The good news he is back running now and he could be playing in a couple of months’ time, so hopefully he is over the worst.