I haven’t always been a professional rugby player.
Until I was 20 I worked in a printing factory and just played at an amateur level. But then I went semi-pro for my local team in Whitehaven, and before I knew it I’d been signed by Leeds Rhinos. From there I spent three years at Wakefield and that led me to St Helens in 2013. I love playing for a massive club like Saints. I’ve won a Super League Championship with them in 2014 and become a full Ireland international.
In many ways winning a Grand Final is as good as it gets. We beat our big rivals Wigan at Old Trafford to get the trophy, and I’ll never forget it. During the press conference before the game, a reporter asked why I couldn’t stop grinning and I just knew that I had to treasure every moment. After all, I’ve been around long enough to know they don’t come round that often.
That was five years ago now, but I work hard and take my preparation very seriously as I get older. I know I can’t play professional rugby forever and the more I approach the later part of my playing career what to do next is often on my mind. I’ve seen many other players who haven’t put things into place before they retire and have been unprepared. They’ve found it really difficult.
By aiming to study for a degree at one of Liverpool Hope’s partner colleges, I’m quietening the anxiety about finishing in the game. There are a lot of other players like me, who know there has to be something after rugby. Our careers are so short and we don’t earn the type of money Premier League footballers, which makes them set for life.
The degree I’m going to study is Physical Education & Sport Science. I’ll still be in my 30s when I retire, with a lot of life ahead and I’d love to stay working in the sport industry. That’s why I’m going to start doing my homework early. I’ll be playing at the top level and hitting the books in my spare-time. It will be a new level of learning for me.
I left school after my GCSEs and did NVQs and City & Guild qualifications in printing while working as an apprentice. Then professional rugby came along. More recently I’ve done level two and three in counselling, which has got me back into the routine of having to do work in the evenings. It’s still a bit daunting to take on a degree but, like with everything, I’ll give it my all.
I want to show other players in my situation that higher education can be an option for them too. I’m hoping the course will inspire me and maybe I’ll meet someone who opens up an opportunity I haven’t even thought of yet.
Being around elite sport you see the effect of sport science all the time, you’re the subject of it every day!
Now I want to understand what’s behind it all.