Leeds captain Stevie Ward says the lasting effects of two concussions have left him having to consider his options for the future.
The 27-year-old said that while retirement was too strong a word to use, he has to “consider the risks that come with playing” after spending 2020 suffering with serious symptoms in the wake of two head knocks.
Posting on Instagram, Ward said he had suffered “symptoms of migraines, light and screen sensitivity, slurred speech, inability to exercise, irritability, anxiety, depression, insomnia, fogginess and dizziness” in the wake of the incidents which happened in January and February.
“From that it’s been one hell of a journey,” he said in an interview with Sky Sports.
“Emotionally, the physical symptoms, I reckon 95 per cent of the time I’ve had some sort of migraine in the day, I’ve had different types of headaches, balance issues, co-ordination issues, trouble with memory, mood swings, focus issues, slurring my speech.”
Ward suffered a serious injury early in his career which led him to struggle with depression, but has since formed the Mantality magazine and podcast, designed at raising awareness of mental health in men.
He now hopes his experiences with head injuries can trigger something similar and broaden the discussion in a sport where toughness is often put on a pedestal.
“Without a doubt more needs to be done,” he said. “As a rugby league player, one of the toughest and most brutal sports there is, you need an air of invincibility to play the game, to feel like you’re not going to get knocked, get up from knocks.
“That’s what I’ve done since I was six, more needs to be done and I want to voice how tough it’s been. This can happen, the same with mental health, I didn’t think that was spoken about enough so started Mantality and put that out there, and this is a moment now where I want to shine a light on brain health and concussions.”
My head hurts writing this tweet. There are blokes struggling out there now who have left the game with brain trauma that has ruined their life. See a specialist if you have any questions. The knowledge is simply not good enough outside of that.
— Stevie Ward (@Ste_Ward) November 25, 2020
Ward still hopes resuming his playing career is an option and as such does not want to use the word retirement.
However, he says if he does decide to stop playing in 2021, that does not necessarily mean the end.
“I am (at a crossroads). I’m coming into the prime of my career, physically as well, and there’s been one massive curveball I’ve had to deal with this year,” he said.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do is play rugby and play for Leeds Rhinos. It’s been one of the biggest drivers of my life and a massive part of my identity, but I’m coming to a phase now where I’m having to consider the risks that come with playing such a contact sport and what’s best for me.
“I know my abilities as a player and the challenges I can take on going forward, whether its in or out of sport. I’m in a position which is scary but exciting. I’ve got to consider my options.
“Retirement, the word retirement, is an option. If I was to stop playing next year, I don’t think it’d be retirement, it’d be doing some different things. I’m 27 and I hope, there’s a small minority of people who don’t get better…
“Retirement, I wouldn’t be stopping, I’d be doing other things in another area of the world, and there’s always the option to come back to play.”