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In the world of rugby, where strength, strategy, and camaraderie define the game, there's a growing concern about the potential long-term impact on players' brain health.


As a former rugby league player, I recently embarked on a journey that goes beyond the field—a day in Edinburgh that could become a pivotal chapter in a groundbreaking study, shedding light on any link between rugby and dementia.


Why me?


I'm a former professional rugby player with a career spanning over 200 games. From proudly representing England to donning the jerseys of Wakefield Trinity, Wigan Warriors, London Broncos, and Hull Kingston Rovers, I've lived and breathed the game. Today, I serve as the Transition Manager for RL Cares, guiding players as they transition from the rugby field to their next chapters and careers.


Why take part?


The decision to participate in the research study wasn't just a professional commitment; it was deeply personal. Over my career, I faced around 30 concussions and weathered various injuries, including a broken jaw, a broken ankle, a ruptured PCL, and Achilles tendon surgery. These experiences, both the triumphs and the challenges, shaped my journey.


In my current role at RL Cares, I witness the unique challenges players encounter as they navigate the transition from professional sports to the next phase of their lives. This research isn't just about me; it's about understanding and advocating for the well-being of every rugby player past, present, and future.


Testing day in Edinburgh


IMG_20231129_115938 (1)The journey to Edinburgh began with a pre-dawn train from Leeds, allowing me to work on the three-hour journey. Energised and ready for the day, I opted for a 40-minute walk to the hospital, savoring the clear day and mentally preparing for what lay ahead.


The research team in Edinburgh welcomed me, ensuring I was well taken care of throughout the day. The first round of tests required fasting, starting with blood and urine samples. Height, weight, head circumference, blood pressure, ECG, and a grip strength test followed. A well-deserved breakfast of toast and black coffee marked a brief pause before the subsequent assessments.



The research study details


The PREVENT: RUGBY study, funded by the Alzheimer's Society, delves into the possible links between elite rugby players and early warning signs of dementia. Drawing inspiration from previous research on footballers, the study aims to assess whether rugby players exhibit differences from the general population and, if so, whether these differences correlate with injuries sustained during their careers.


With the number of people with dementia in the UK projected to reach 1 million by 2025, the study becomes a beacon of hope. By examining lifestyle and biological factors in mid-life, the research team hopes to identify ways of detecting dementia before symptoms manifest.


As one of 50 former players joining the 700 participants in PREVENT, I underwent a series of assessments, including physical health checks, brain scans, memory assessments, lifestyle questionnaires, and sample collections. These assessments will be repeated every two years, providing valuable insights into potential changes over time.




The day in Edinburgh wasn't just a series of tests; it was a contribution to a collective effort that could redefine the future for rugby players and, by extension, athletes in contact sports. The journey ahead involves not only personal introspection but also a commitment to advocating for the well-being of those who have dedicated their lives to the sport.


As we navigate the challenges posed by the physical demands of rugby, the PREVENT: RFC study offers a glimpse of hope. It's a step towards understanding and mitigating the risks associated with a sport we love. The road ahead may be long, but every test, every assessment, brings us closer to a future where players can enjoy the game they love without compromising their cognitive well-being.


In the coming years, as the research unfolds, we'll stand together—players, advocates, and researchers—hoping for a safer and healthier future for generations of rugby enthusiasts. This study isn't just about the past or the present; it's about shaping a future where the love for rugby coexists harmoniously with the well-being of those who make the game what it is.




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"The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around” 



- Thomas A. Edison



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