How do you know when to walk away, and how do you swap one career for another, especially when it is one you have given everything to?
For former England centre Dan Sarginson, the answers were immediate and powerful this week. The popular Salford star is walking away at the age of just 29 after a terrific career at Wigan and London too. Rugby league has been his life.
But people change, the world changes. Feelings and emotions mature and develop. Sarginson realised the sport wasn’t serving him anymore, the countless concussions and injuries having saturated his passion. But another, bigger event started the awakening, having tragically and suddenly lost his younger brother five years ago. He was just 23.
“Being so ill-equipped to help my little brother during his battle with severe mental health, after he passed I decided to work through my own suffering and struggles,” said Sarginson this week.
“I now deeply understand that none of us can walk this life alone. I am going to move in the direction of helping people, in whatever capacity that may be.”
Sarginson’s retirement is both a reminder of the fragility of a career in professional sport, and a strong message to anyone inside and out of the sport of the need to prioritise mental health and wellbeing.
Rugby league has been a trailblazer in that respect, with charities State of Mind and Rugby League Cares both working to care for the mental fitness of all involved in the game. The sport’s macho image has traditionally been an Achilles heel for players opening up about their struggles, not wanting to showcase any potential weakness to opponents, or give the coach any reason not to pick them.
Thankfully the realisation that the stronger man or woman is the one who opens up, is hitting home more.
And the sport would do well with more Dan Sarginsons in and around it.
Another big name to call time on his career this week was England skipper Sam Tomkins, who confirmed his intention to put the boots away at the end of the season. The 33-year old has been blighted by injuries in his twilight years and - like Sarginson - has realised that the time is right to stop. Tomkins though will stay in the sport. He loves the life he has carved for his family in the south of France and has often told me he has no desire to come home to Wigan.
The Catalans Dragons will have a coaching and off-field role ready to go, with Tomkins set to continue his media work from France. He has been one of the greats. Loved by team-mates and fans of the clubs he has played for, and hated by rivals fans.
That is the ultimate sign of respect.
And a third big name has quit this week too. Star Castleford centre Jake Mamo has just had enough and has left the winless Tigers, and the sport.
“I suffered a bad back injury in my last game and I couldn’t move for three days after that,” he said. “I thought to myself that I never want to feel like that ever again.”
On the pitch, a bit of Betfred Super League history was made at the weekend as the competition’s first ever pay-per-view game was streamed on the RFL’s Our League platform. Hull FC were subject to an absolute blitz from a red-hot Salford side in a broadcast that proved a huge success, with the hope being that more games will be shown in a similar model in future.
The Red Devils spine of Ryan Brierley, Mark Sneyd and Brodie Croft was unplayable on the day, but the thumping manner of the 60-14 will have alarmed Hull FC coach Tony Smith. The Black and Whites won their first two games before back-to-back defeats to Catalans and Salford, but defensively they are all over the place.
146 points conceded in just four games is the result of an alarmingly leaky defence that Smith knows he has to fix as a matter of urgency before the season gets too long in the tooth.
Halifax Panthers pounced to produce the big shock of the Betfred Challenge Cup third round as they inflicted a first defeat of the season on Sean Long’s table-topping Featherstone Rovers. Having been at every Rovers match this year this was easily the worst I have seen them play. But take nothing away from Fax who were terrific and have been rewarded with a huge opportunity now. They will play Barrow at home followed by a potential 5th round home tie with Bradford. And after that, the big boys come in. The sport’s most iconic Cup competition still oozes magic and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
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