Stevie Ward: Leeds Rhinos captain calls for more work to be done on concussion
The Leeds skipper Stevie Ward: "It's been a tough journey, coming from being named captain of my hometown club at the start of the year to playing one game and then having to deal with this."
By Sky Sports Rugby League
Last Updated: 03/12/20 4:23pm
There are few days where Stevie Ward does not still feel the effects of the concussions which ended his 2020 season, even though it is nearly 11 months since they happened.
The first came in a pre-season friendly against Wigan Warriors, when the Leeds Rhinos captain's head was caught in between an opponent, a team-mate and the ground while making a tackle.
Two weeks later, in the opening game of the Super League season against Hull FC, Ward was again forced to leave the field after suffering a knock to his head and although he was able to return to training he has not played a game since.
"It's been a tough journey, coming from being named captain of my hometown club at the start of the year to playing one game and then having to deal with this," Ward told Sky Sports News. "I didn't really expect it, going into 2020."
Constant migraines, balance and co-ordination issues and slurred speech are some of the physical symptoms Ward has suffered from during the intervening period, as well as mood swings.
He has addressed the latter through his work with Mantality, the mental health organisation he founded, but now wants to raise awareness around the long-term physical effects of concussion in a bid to drive change in the sport both in terms of player safety and the culture around head injuries.
"As a rugby league player - I'd say one of the toughest, most brutal sports there is, alongside American football - you need an air of invincibility to play the game, to feel like you're not going to get knocked and feel like you can get up from the knocks," Ward said.
There is more which needs to be done on the effects [of concussion] and I want to voice how tough it has been because this is a situation which can happen.
"That's what I've done since I was six years old and started playing the game. There is more which needs to be done on the effects and I want to voice how tough it has been because this is a situation which can happen.
"I've had a real whirlpool of symptoms this year and there is more work needs to be done around player safety.
"There needs to be more of an assessment and a strong look at the potential which could happen if you get too many."
The Rhinos are one of the organisations helping to spearhead research in this area, partnering with a university to give players gumshields with trackers which measure the g-force of in-game contact, and while Ward praised his club for that he wants to see more research done, as well as calling on anything rugby league does embrace to be medically-led.
As for his own future, the 27-year-old is currently weighing up whether he will be able to return to playing. However, he would not look upon hanging up his boots as retiring, more a case of doing something different whether that is within rugby or outside of the sport.
"I'd probably just come into the prime of my career, physically as well, and then there has been one massive curveball this year," Ward said. "All I've ever wanted to do is play rugby and play for Leeds Rhinos and lead the team.
"That's been one of the biggest drivers I've had in my life, it's been a massive part of my identity and I'm coming to a phase where I'm having to consider the risks that are involved in playing such a contact sport and what's best for me.
"I know my ability as a player and I also know the challenges I can take on, whether that's in the sporting arena or out of it. I'm in a position which is scary, but exciting and I've got to consider my options."