No rest as Leeds Rhinos’ James Donaldson adds to workload with university studies
CONSIDERING his insatiable appetite for work on the pitch, it is perhaps no surprise Leeds Rhinos’ James Donaldson has started a full-time quantity surveying degree as well.
It is not unusual for players to undergo further education courses during their time at Emerald Headingley given the club actively encourages them to do so and also has such close links with Leeds Beckett University.
However, it is rare for them to embark on courses on a full-time basis while still actually playing in Super League.
Loose forward Donaldson, a farmer’s son from Cumbria, has never been scared of hard graft, though, and that is why he is tackling the prospect with as much relish as dumping an opponent on his backside.
The former Bradford Bulls player, 28, explained: “It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a while. But the connection that the club has got with Leeds Beckett has probably helped me get that step further and get the help that I need.
“Joanne, who’s running the course, has helped me as much as I can to organise my uni around the training which is massively helpful as not everyone gets that privilege to be able to go to uni here and there and organise classes around my training.
“I’m doing it full time - not part-time - so when I finish training on an afternoon I go to uni from three until five. I come home and my wife Georgia has usually got my tea ready. Then I do another couple of hours work before bed.
“To be fair, I don’t feel like I’ve really had five minutes rest since I started pre-season and university as well. But I know it will help me further down the line. There’s not many players who get things in place for when they finish.
“With the path that I’ve had, I realise how important that is.”
It was only this time last year Donaldson - who married his long-term partner in Harrogate in October - was unsure if he would even play Super League again. He had been released by Hull KR and was training on his own before Rhinos offered a trial.
But Donaldson duly made his mark, earned a 12-month deal and, in September, signed a new two-year contract but the stress and uncertainty beforehand was a sobering reminder to start thinking about life after rugby.
He said: “The wife’s been pushing me for years saying ‘what are you doing on your Playstation, what are you doing on your X-Box, you should be getting a course sorted.’
“But I’ve finally got it done now and it does feel good; I get a lot of satisfaction out of handing assignments in and actually doing a bit of learning again.
“I came straight out of school to sign for Bradford and when your hand starts hurting after you write two or three lines you know it’s been a while since you’ve written anything. But it’s a great thing for me. I’ve no kids yet and my family still live in Cumbria so when I’m not training and my missus is at work I do have spare time on my hands, so it gives you that extra little satisfaction.”
Donaldson readily concedes he was never destined to return to the family farm near Whitehaven and added: “Obviously, it has been in my family for many years.
“My brother can’t carry it on because he’s disabled but I’ve never fancied it. I’ve seen how hard my dad has to work. Honestly, it’s crazy. He works 18-hour shifts.
“I don’t know how he does it. I’ve never heard him complain once in my life saying ‘I can’t be bothered going to work tomorrow.’ He just cracks up at half four every morning.
“At one stage he’d not had a day off for five years straight. I don’t think I could do that.
“He’s a tough guy. It’s just something he’s been brought up with but I kind of had the choice of rugby or farming and I chose the rugby.”
Working as a quantity surveyor, and essentially managing the costs of a construction project, is something that stems from the other side of his family.
“My father-in-law had a construction company for a while and I got a bit of an interest in it,” said Donaldson.
“And then I spoke to a sponsor at Rhinos called Jamie Kilmartin and (former Leeds Rhinos academy, Catalans Dragons and Huddersfield Giants winger) Jodie Broughton who’s now a fully-qualified quantity surveyor.
“I like maths which is a lot to do with it and obviously bartering with money is what I will enjoy.
“I threw myself in at the deep end - and now I’m trying to swim.”
Donaldson is managing to keep on top of both workloads and hopes to feature in the Boxing Day friendly as Leeds prepare for their 2020 campaign.
He was an integral part of their side last term, first under Dave Furner and then Richard Agar.
The former England Schoolboys captain played in 25 games, coming off the bench in 22 of them, and operating at back-row, No 13 and prop.
With captain Trent Merrin having gone back to the NRL, does he fancy the starting loose forward role next year?
“I played a bit of everywhere this time,” he said. “Obviously Mez’s specific position - starting the game, getting us a good start - everyone wants to be in the starting side.
“All of my career, though, I’ve really come off the bench. And I’ve enjoyed that. I kind of know my role now - coming off the bench - and I can look to bring some good quality and try and bring a bit of energy.
“I’ll just keep working hard and whatever comes and happens will happen. We’re looking forward to getting cracking.”